Robert Mueller says he didn't give a clean chit to Donald Trump over obstruction, hints at impeachment as last resort to charge president
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in a rare public statement on Wednesday, presented his conclusions of the investigation into 2016 Russian election meddling, saying he did not have an option to charge President Donald Trump with obstruction.
He cited a Department of Justice policy as the reason behind it, which prohibits a sitting president to be charged with a crime. The special counsel however hinted at other measures that could be taken up by Congress to charge a sitting president, and that is impeachment.
Mueller, in his roughly ten-minute statement, suggested that Congress holds the authority to prosecute a sitting president with impeachment. The special counsel also appeared to directly contradict Attorney General William Barr's interpretation of the report by saying that his office "would have said so" if his investigators "had confidence the president clearly did not commit a crime."
"If we had confidence the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," Mueller said.
Mueller, during his appearance at the Justice Department office in Washington DC, also announced that he is closing the special counsel's office and is returning to private life. He also added that he does not intend to testify before Congress, as House Democrats have been urging him to do.
"I hope and expect this will be the only time I will speak to you in this manner," he said. "It's important the office's written work speaks for itself."
The special counsel added that he decided himself against testifying, adding that any testimony would not go beyond the report he presented to Attorney General Barr last month.
The Justice Department had released a redacted version of the Mueller report last month, which detailed multiple cases where Trump asked his aides to take actions that would have obstructed the investigation. However, the special counsel's report added that the president's attempts were unsuccessful because his aides refused to do his bidding.
The report also stated that the probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia found that some members of the president's campaign knew they would benefit from Russia's illegal actions to influence the election.
Mueller, in his conclusive statement on Wednesday, said that charging Trump was "not an option" for him and his team because of the existing laws under the Justice Department and that he was "bound by that policy." The special counsel added that obstructing an investigation "strikes at the core of the government's effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable."
Mueller highlighted how the Constitution requires a process other than "the criminal justice system to hold officeholders accountable," hinting that his obstruction probe into Trump, which is of "of paramount importance", could be picked up by Congress.