In one of the only times that Robert Mueller, head of the special counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 US election, has spoken publicly about his work, Mueller has announced the end of the probe along with several important takeaways.
In a nine-minute briefing at the White House in front of reporters, Mueller laid out the key findings of the redacted special counsel’s report that had been released several weeks ago. Among the prepared statement made by Mueller, he stressed that while they did find evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, they did not find that Trump or his campaign coordinated with this interference.
The investigation was also looking to see if Trump or his associates had worked to obstruct the investigation, which Mueller said they did not establish conclusively one way or another. Mueller specifically stated, “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” While this statement is somewhat vague, it at the least does not clear Trump of all wrongdoing, as if that were the case, Mueller would have stated that. What it does say, to a certain degree, is that there are several instances, as outlined in the report, that could be interpreted as Trump obstructing or attempting to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation.
While Mueller mentioned the president was not cleared, he did stress that the investigation did not look into actually charging the president, as it is against the policy of the department of justice to charge a sitting president, something Mueller and his team kept in mind when compiling the report. Mueller said, as stated by the report, that “under long-standing department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. The special counsel’s office is part of the department of justice and by regulation, it was bound by that department policy. Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.” The phrasing here is important, as the special counsel was not able to consider charging the president, so they merely laid out the evidence that could be considered.
In this case, it falls on to Congress to remove a sitting president, not a special counsel or grand jury, using information from the special counsel’s investigation. It is not clear if that is what Mueller meant with his statement, that while he can’t charge the president, it should be Congress to do that, as he made no mention of Congress’s power to impeach during his speech. Though Mueller did say “The constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing. It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge.” This could be referring to the constitutional guidelines for indicting a sitting president, through the Congressional impeachment process.
Mueller said if he were called before Congress in a committee hearing, as some Democrats in the House of Representatives have called for, he would not provide any more information than what is publicly available in the report.
Closing his press conference, Mueller stated the key takeaway of the investigation was “there were multiple, systematic, efforts to interfere in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American.”
Following the conference, Jeremy Nadler, the Democratic head of the House judiciary committee, said Mueller’s statement shows Trump is lying and that all options regarding impeachment should be on the table.
Mueller said that he was officially closing the special counsel investigation and resigning from the department of justice to return to private life.