Special counsel Robert Mueller, in his first public comments on his two-year investigation surrounding President Trump and his campaign, said Wednesday that his office did not charge Trump with a crime because it “was not an option” under Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations.
Mueller, in a dramatic appearance at DOJ headquarters, said it would have been impossible to bring Trump to court and that his final report clearly spelled out that investigators did not conclude that the president was innocent of a crime.
“After that investigation, if we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that,” Mueller said.
Mueller’s statement, which he said would be his last public remarks on the report, is likely to amp up pressure on Democrats in Congress to impeach Trump.
While he didn’t mention impeachment directly, Mueller said the Constitution requires a "process other than the criminal justice system" to take disciplinary action against a sitting president.
Some Democrats in Congress are pushing for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to start an impeachment inquiry against Trump, after Mueller laid out evidence of possible obstruction of justice by the president in his report.
But Pelosi and other top House Democrats have shied away from starting such proceedings, pointing to recent victories in court over Trump in their ongoing investigations as reason that impeachment isn’t necessary at this time.
Mueller said Wednesday that the DOJ guidance, in the form of an opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, "explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president because it’s important to preserve evidence when memories are fresh and documents are available."
And he noted that the opinion would have prohibited him from filing a charge under seal that could be made public once Trump left office.
Mueller did not clarify whether his office would have charged Trump with a crime if the DOJ guidance had not been in place.
But he said that "it would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge."
Half of Mueller's 448-page long report released last month laid out a case that Trump may have sought to obstruct Mueller's probe, but the special counsel's office declined to bring forward such a charge.
Attorney General William Barr later said that he and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reviewed the evidence, and found that it was insufficient to charge Trump with a crime.
Trump and his allies have pointed to Mueller not bringing forward an obstruction charge as evidence of the president’s innocence, even as Mueller has made clear that his report did not exonerate Trump.
The president highlighted that point in a tweet sent shortly after Mueller’s remarks.
“There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our country, a person is innocent,” Trump tweeted. “The case is closed!”
But other Democrats weren’t buying that argument.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement after Mueller’s remarks that while the Mueller couldn’t bring charges against Trump under DOJ policy, “the Special Counsel has clearly demonstrated that President Trump is lying about the Special Counsel’s findings, lying about the testimony of key witnesses in the Special Counsel’s report, and is lying in saying that the Special Counsel found no obstruction and no collusion.”
“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. No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law,” Nadler said.
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