Enigmatic is hardly the first word that comes to mind when describing Robert Mueller, the former FBI director appointed to lead the special counsel Russia investigation. Yet, the nation – and certainly the political establishment – seems to have been waiting with bated breath to hear something from him since he turned in his final report.
On May 29, Mueller ended the suspense by making his first public statement. Frantically protected by lawmakers for the length of his 22-month probe and then criticized for ultimately failing to make a prosecutorial recommendation on the question of President Donald Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice, Mueller may have felt compelled to put certain contentious issues to rest. The former special counsel is still in talks with the House Judiciary Committee, regarding possible testimony, though reports suggest Mueller did not wish to testify publicly.
Speaking from the Justice Department, Mueller delivered a less than 10-minute statement and took no questions. One or two of Mueller’s remarks stood out as potentially providing the president’s foes with ammunition to use against him. It is worth remembering the context, however, of Mueller’s role as a prosecutor. His statement, then, was hardly going to support Trump’s claims of innocence.
The Obstruction Contradiction
In what appears to be a contradiction of Attorney General William Barr, Mueller made a point of explaining that he had failed to recommend a criminal obstruction charge against the president because Justice Department opinion states that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime. During a Senate hearing, Barr had suggested that this long-standing DOJ policy was not the deciding factor.
It remains worthy of note that, though Mueller refused to exonerate the president on the issue of obstruction, he also failed to put together a solid case for obstruction. One other important point made by Mueller is that, although the president himself cannot be criminally charged, if anyone around him had been fingered as a co-conspirator in a crime involving the president, they certainly could have been charged. Both conspiracy – with Russian officials – and obstruction of justice would almost certainly require co-conspirators, yet no-one has been charged with any crimes relating to either collusion or obstruction. Ultimately, though, Mueller still leaves the door open to impeachment:
“First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available – among other things that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could be charged now. And second, the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing … “
Despite claims by the president’s opponents that AG Barr had misrepresented the conclusions of the special counsel report, Mueller made no comment to that effect; he merely mentioned that he, Mueller, had recommended releasing the report in separate parts rather than in its entirety.
Wrapping up his statement, Mueller noted: “[T]he central allegation of our indictments that there were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election allegation deserves the attention of every American.”
Other than that, the biggest takeaway from the special counsel’s statement is that he considers his final report to be the final word and that he would make no further public statements on the matter. Mueller also suggested that, were he to agree to testify before Congress, he would provide no information, nor answer any questions, that had not already been covered within the pages of his report.
There is little doubt that both sides of the political divide will draw from Mueller’s statement certain phrases and observations that support their arguments for or against the president. The statement may fuel calls for Trump’s impeachment but, ultimately, Mueller put one major question to rest: That there is no more information to be provided beyond what is contained within the 400-plus pages of his report.
This is a developing story and will be updated if and when more information becomes available.
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