Outgoing special counsel Robert Mueller took a parting shot at the president in his televised statement Wednesday, giving Democrats ammunition to pursue impeachment proceedings against President Trump.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that,” Mueller said in his prepared remarks.
Mueller insinuated that he would have charged the president of obstruction of justice if not for longstanding Justice Department guidelines prohibiting him from doing so. The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) allows for the investigation of a sitting president but not for the indictment of one.
“Charging the president with a crime was not an option we could consider,” Mueller explained. “It would be unfair to accuse someone of a crime when there could be no court resolution of the charge.”
He added: “The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse the president of wrongdoing,” in essence passing the baton to Congress to use the impeachment process to deal with the president’s alleged criminality.
“We concluded that we would not reach a determination one way or the other about whether the president committed a crime,” Mueller added. “That is the office’s final position.”
Mueller’s comments regarding his team’s conclusion on obstruction seemed to contradict Attorney General William Barr’s assertion last month that Mueller told him that he “was not saying that but for the OLC opinion, he would have found a crime.”
During a press conference on April 18, Barr noted that there were two other Justice Department officials with him when Mueller “made it clear” that that was not his position.
I would leave it to his description in the report, the special counsel’s own articulation of why he did not want to make a determination as to whether or not there was an obstruction offense.
But I will say that when we met with him, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and I met with him, along with Ed o’Callaghan, who is the principal associate deputy, on March 5th. We specifically asked him about the OLC opinion and whether or not he was taking a position that he would have found a crime but for the existence of the OLC opinion. And he made it very clear several times that that was not his position. He was not saying that but for the OLC opinion, he would have found a crime. He made it clear that he had not made the determination that there was a crime.
The discrepancy between Mueller’s remarks Wednesday, and what Barr says he and two other top DOJ officials heard in April, is glaring, to say the least.
Mueller said during his press conference that he had no plans to testify before Congress, but if he did, he would not say anything beyond what is already in his report.
Democrat presidential contenders quickly took to Twitter following Mueller’s press conference, calling his comments a “referral for impeachment.”
What Robert Mueller basically did was return an impeachment referral. Now it is up to Congress to hold this president accountable.
We need to start impeachment proceedings. It's our constitutional obligation.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) May 29, 2019
Robert Mueller’s statement makes it clear: Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) May 29, 2019
Mueller’s statement makes clear what those who have read his report know: It is an impeachment referral, and it’s up to Congress to act. They should.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 29, 2019
In a statement following Mueller’s press conference, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said in a statement that Democrats intended to pick up where Mueller left off.
“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,” Nadler said in a statement. “No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law.”
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. https://t.co/w61a8rRQeK
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) May 29, 2019
“We would like to thank Special Counsel Robert Mueller for his service to our nation over the past two years. In his statement this morning, Special Counsel Mueller reaffirmed his report, which found substantial evidence that Russia attacked our political system and that the President sought to obstruct Mueller’s investigation over and over again. He also confirmed three central points: he did not exonerate the President of the United States of obstruction of justice, obstruction of justice is a serious crime that strikes at the core of our justice system, and the Constitution points to Congress to take action to hold the President accountable.
“Although Department of Justice policy prevented the Special Counsel from bringing criminal charges against the President, 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.”
Meanwhile, President Trump downplayed Mueller’s comments:
Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2019
The Federalist’s Sean Davis had some thoughts on Mueller’s seemingly confused perception of his prosecutorial role.
Also, Mueller's view of a prosecutor's role — to prove and declare a target's innocence, rather than to charge criminality — is a despicable affront to the rule of law and the Constitution. Cops and lawyers don't grant innocence. It is our default legal state absent conviction.
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) May 29, 2019
What we’ll be witnessing from hereon in will be a high stakes fight to the death between Team Trump and The Deep State.
On one side of the ring we have the President, AG Barr, U.S. Attorney John H. Durham, U.S. Attorney John Huber, DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz and the president’s Republican allies in Congress. They have managed to deal some serious body blows to the Deep State in their investigation into the Obama administration’s surveillance abuse during the 2016 election.
On the other side, we have congressional Democrats, the special counsel, former Obama officials and the MSM trying to bring down the president through a “death by a thousand cuts” impeachment strategy. They’ve successfully hobbled the Trump presidency and now want to finish him off.
Neither side will come out of the match unscathed, but only one side will prevail. Which side that will be remains to be seen.
Early Wednesday evening, the Special Counsel’s Office and the Department of Justice put out a joint statement clarifying that there is “no conflict” between Barr and Mueller’s statements on the role of the OLC guidelines in the Trump/Russia investigation.