In his first public remarks about his two-year Russia investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday the inquiry has been closed and he is leaving his role and returning to civilian life.
Speaking at the Justice Department, Mueller reiterated his report’s findings — that there was no evidence to indicate collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign before the 2016 election, and there were several “episodes” in which President Donald Trump may have obstructed justice with attempts to disrupt the investigation. The report did not clear him on that issue.
“If we’d had confidence the president didn’t commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said.
The special counsel emphasized that his team could not charge Trump due to longstanding Justice Department policy.
“A president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office,” he said. “That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view — that too is prohibited.
“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.”
Muller appeared to defer to Congress for possible action based on the law. He said the investigation was necessary, regardless, to preserve evidence and bring charges against co-conspirators who can now be charged.
“The opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system for formally accusing a sitting president of wrongdoing,” he said.
Mueller added that his team decided not to comment further on Trump’s actions during the investigation out of fairness.
“It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime where there could be no court resolution of the actual charge,” Mueller said. “We would not reach a determination one way or another if the president committed a crime. That is the office’s final position.”
Mueller said he does not plan on speaking further about the investigation, precluding any testimony in Congress. House Democrats have been hoping for weeks Mueller would testify to expand on his report’s findings. Other officials, including Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn, received subpoenas to testify. Both Barr and McGahn defied the subpoena to testify before the House judiciary committee.
“The matters we investigated were of paramount importance,” Mueller added. “When the subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators it strikes at the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”
“The report is my testimony,” he said.
Trump answered Mueller’s comments in a tweet.
“Nothing changes from the Mueller Report,” Trump wrote. “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed!”
“The report was clear — there was no collusion, no conspiracy,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said. “And the Department of Justice confirmed there was no obstruction. Special counsel Mueller also stated that Attorney General Barr acted in good faith in his handling of the report.
“After two years, the special counsel is moving on with his life, and everyone else should do the same.”
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