During a brief, nine-minute appearance, Mueller made clear that he did not plan on speaking further about his two year-long investigation and gave fuel to pro-impeachment Democrats pressing their leadership to take action.
Here are five takeaways.
Mueller gives pro-impeachment Dems an argument
Mueller said that if his office “had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”
He also said that Department of Justice guidance prohibited his office from bringing charges against the president, and that the same guidance states “that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
Liberals pounced on those comments as a green light for an impeachment inquiry.
“Robert Mueller’s statement makes it clear: Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately,” tweeted Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a presidential candidate who previously had not called for Trump’s impeachment.
Other Democrats were more cautious.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has sought to keep a lid on impeachment talk, said Congress would “continue to investigate and legislate to protect our elections and secure our democracy” in a statement that didn’t mention impeachment.
Other key lawmakers also avoided the word impeachment, even as they vowed to take action.
“Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump — and we will do so,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
Asked directly about impeachment at a press conference later Wednesday, Nadler said “all options are on the table.”
In some ways, Mueller’s appearance makes Pelosi’s job more difficult.
The special counsel gave ammunition to those saying it is Congress’s constitutional duty to move forward with impeachment, but he did little to change the political calculus.
Pelosi has long seen impeachment as politically risky for a party hoping to win back the White House next November. Her statement generally indicated that her position on the issue hasn’t changed, but it’s likely to be more difficult now to quiet some of the calls for impeachment coming from within her caucus.
GOP says case closed
While Democrats who want to impeach Trump have some new talking points, Republicans seized on Mueller’s statements as bolstering their own familiar argument: It’s time to move on.
“Special Counsel Mueller confirmed today what we knew months ago when his report was released: there was no collusion and no obstruction,” Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “Re-litigating the 2016 election and reinvestigating the special counsel’s findings will only further divide our country.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made similar remarks in a statement Wednesday, saying that after Mueller’s statements “the case is over.”
Republicans have been saying this ever since Attorney General William Barr first released his memo summarizing the Mueller report, and nothing the special counsel said Wednesday is going to change that argument.
While Mueller once again made it clear that he was not exonerating Trump, it’ll be up to Democrats to take any next steps.
Polls have shown that many Americans are ready to move on from Mueller, and that’s one reason Pelosi has tread so cautiously on the impeachment issue.
While Mueller gave pro-impeachment Democrats some new ammunition, he didn’t say anything that will force Republicans to change their game plan.
Mueller doesn’t want to testify
Mueller made it clear he does not want to testify to Congress, raising a problem for Democrats who will have to decide whether they want to subpoena him.
“I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak about this matter,” Mueller said. “I am making that decision myself — no one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter.”
Nadler has said it is imperative that Mueller testify and that the committee would subpoena him if necessary. But Democrats are unlikely to love the optics of subpoenaing him.
Nadler sidestepped questions Wednesday about a subpoena, stating: “Mr. Mueller told us a lot of what we need to hear today.”
If Mueller does appear, it’s unlikely he’ll say much based on Wednesday’s comments.
Mueller made it crystal clear that anything he’d say is already in his report.
“Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis, and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself,” Mueller said.
“The report is my testimony.” Mueller said.
The House Intelligence Committee also has sought Mueller’s testimony, though that would likely take place behind closed doors.
Mueller seeks to quash differences with Barr
In a March 27 letter revealed last month, Mueller objected to Barr’s memo on his report, arguing it failed to capture the “context, nature, and substance” of his investigation.
He also pushed Barr, a longtime friend of the special counsel, to immediately release more of the report, something Barr declined to do.
But on Wednesday, Mueller did not offer criticism of Barr, saying he didn’t question his “good faith” decision in waiting to release a redacted version of the special counsel’s full report.
“We appreciate that the attorney general made the report largely public. I do not question the attorney general’s good faith in that decision,” Mueller said.
Democrats had seized on Mueller’s letter to bolster their argument that the attorney general mishandled the report to try to help Trump.
Mueller didn’t help their argument at all, showing no evidence of frustration or disappointment with Barr.
Mueller also threw cold water on Democrats’ suspicions that the Justice Department is trying to block him from testifying before Congress.
Mueller puts emphasis on Russian meddling
While much of the media coverage on Mueller’s press conference focused on his comments about obstruction, it was clear the former longtime chief of the FBI was focused on Moscow.
Mueller said he was initially tasked with investigating the scope of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and he outlined a pair of indictments brought forward by his office against Russian military officers who hacked Democrats ahead of the election and a Russian troll farm.
“I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments — that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election,” Mueller said. “That allegation deserves the attention of every American."
Trump has repeatedly downplayed the extent of Russia’s meddling, and Senate Republicans have largely stonewalled election security bills.
Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said earlier this month that he didn’t anticipate the Senate voting on any election security measures because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “is of the view that this debate reaches no conclusion.”
Mueller’s remarks could put more attention on the issue, and Democrats used his warning to back up their own calls to pass election security measures.
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