WASHINGTON — Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday stressed that his office did not consider it an option to charge President Trump with a crime as he and his team completed their investigation.
Mueller spoke for about 10 minutes Wednesday morning from a podium at the Justice Department, marking his first public appearance since launching a two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
“If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime,” he said, reiterating a key finding from his 448-page report.
Mueller said he was abiding by longstanding Justice Department policy, where “a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office.” He added, “Charging a president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
Many House Democrats considering how to proceed in investigating a defiant administration took Mueller’s comments as a clear signal that it’s up to lawmakers to aggressively probe the president’s actions.
“It’s clear now that Congress must hold hearings on the findings of the Special Counsel, including the witnesses who gave testimony to investigators. It’s time to officially start Impeachment hearings,” U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-2nd District, wrote on Twitter after Mueller’s speech.
In a sternly worded statement issued by her office, U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, said Mueller “was clear: ‘If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.’ Mueller also reminded us that he did not have the option of indicting the president – because according to Justice Department policy, ‘a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office.’”
In her statement, Dean continued: “Mueller … described his view of the appropriate next steps: ‘the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.’ In other words, Special Counsel Mueller cannot act, but Congress can – and we will.”
Mueller’s statements Wednesday were “no surprise to anyone who has read,” his report, U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, said.
What Special Counsel Mueller said today was no surprise to anyone who has read the #MuellerReport.
— Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (@RepMGS) May 30, 2019
Mueller’s statement Wednesday “confirms what I have been saying for 2 years: Congress has plenty of grounds to start an impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s conduct,” U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District, tweeted.
Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, the lone congressional Republican so far to push for impeachment, said of Mueller’s comments, “The ball is in our court, Congress.”
Virginia Democratic Rep. Don Beyer said, “Special Counsel Mueller makes it clear that his investigation did not ‘exonerate’ Trump, and directly contradicts [Attorney General William] Barr’s public statements.” Beyer added, “Barr should resign, and Congress should open an impeachment inquiry into the President’s potentially criminal acts.”
Other lawmakers still want Mueller to testify before Congress, although the special counsel made it clear that he is closing up shop and doesn’t plan to offer much more information, even if he’s at the witness stand.
“I am speaking out today because our investigation is complete; the attorney general has made the report on our investigation largely public. We are formally closing the special counsel’s office and as well I’m resigning from the Department of Justice to return to private life,” he said. He took no questions after he spoke.
Any congressional testimony he would offer “would not go beyond our report,” Mueller said. “We will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the president.” He noted that his office isn’t involved in conversations about congressional access to the evidence underlying his report, which lawmakers are also seeking to obtain.
“While Mueller’s report confirmed Russian interference in our 2016 election and did not exonerate Trump from obstruction; there are still many questions left unanswered,” Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said. “Mueller should testify before Congress. The American people deserve the whole truth.”
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) agreed. “Mueller needs to testify before Congress,” he wrote.
Trump and his GOP allies continued their defense of the president.
“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,” Trump wrote on Twitter shortly after Mueller’s appearance.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) slammed Mueller’s transparency in a tweet. “If @realDonaldTrump doesn’t take a question for a few weeks, the media claims democracy is on life support,” Gaetz wrote. “Robert #Mueller took 22 months to do the investigation. Followed by a 9 minute drive-by obstruction allegation. And then does not take a SINGLE QUESTION.”