Mueller: If we had confidence the president "clearly" did not commit a crime, we would have said so

Mueller began his first public remarks by saying he was formally closing the special counsel's office and resigning

Published May 29, 2019 11:05AM (EDT)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller speaks on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election, at the US Justice Department in Washington, DC, on May 29, 2019. (Getty/Mandel Ngan)
Special Counsel Robert Mueller speaks on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election, at the US Justice Department in Washington, DC, on May 29, 2019. (Getty/Mandel Ngan)

In his first public comments since he completed his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, special counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday that he could not charge President Donald Trump with a crime due to a "longstanding" Department of Justice policy that prevents a sitting executive from being indicted. 

"We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime," Mueller said, citing the Justice Department's policy that a president "cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that too is prohibited."

"If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," Mueller added.

Mueller opened his remarks by announcing he was formally closing the special counsel's office and resigning his post at the Justice Department.

Noting that he has not spoken publicly during his 22-month long investigation into Russia's election interference, alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow and whether the president obstructed justice, Mueller said he was "speaking out today because our investigation is complete. The attorney general has made the report on our investigation largely public."

He announced he was "formally closing the special counsel's office, and as well, I'm resigning from the Department of Justice to return to private life." Mueller added that his 448-page report, released with redactions in April, "speaks for itself."

Mueller asserted his conclusion that intelligence officers with the Russian military had "launched a concerted attack on our political system" in an attempt to "interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate." He closed his remarks by "reiterating the central allegation of our indictments: that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American."

Mueller has been caught in the center of a feud between the Trump administration and Democrats in Congress, who want to hear from him about his nearly two-year investigation. The special counsel concluded there was no conspiracy on behalf of the Trump campaign to coordinate with Russia to influence the outcome of the election, but he did not reach a conclusion as to whether the president attempted to impede the investigation. Attorney General William Barr took it upon himself to determine the evidence did not prove obstruction by Trump.

The special counsel added Wednesday that he does not believe it would be "appropriate" for him to speak about his report further, indicating that his over 400-page document is his testimony. He did not take questions following his remarks.

"Beyond what I've said here today and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department before Congress," he said.

Trump appeared to tout Mueller's remarks as an exoneration of his name, writing on Twitter: "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!"

After a redacted version of Mueller's report was released late last month, House Democrats immediately sought access to the entire text and underlying evidence. Trump has refused to cooperate and vowed to fight all subpoenas issued by Democrats, throwing a wrench into their oversight efforts on a variety of issues, including foreign election interference, alleged mismanagement in the White House security clearance proceduresthe president's finances and his immigration policies.

Since the Democrats seized control of the House of Representatives in January, the White House has faced a barrage of subpoenas, demands to testify before a host of congressional panels and letters seeking a flurry of documents. The Trump administration has often ignored congressional requests for documents and witnesses, calling the demands an unconstitutional infringement on the president's powers.

The executive branch's attempts to push back against congressional inquiries targeting the White House have led some Democrats to contemplate new ways to compel current and former West Wing aides to acquiesce to their demands. Some Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, have begun calling for an impeachment inquiry.

Trump announced last week that he has given his attorney general full authority to declassify and publicly disclose information about the origins of the Russia investigation. The move prompted Democrats to accuse Trump of attempting to divert attention from Mueller's findings, whose probe continues critical questions that remain unanswered.

Democrats believe Barr inappropriately claimed the president had not committed obstruction of justice, despite evidence laid out by Mueller in his report. Some prosecutors who worked for the special counsel also claimed the attorney general did not adequately represent their findings, telling associates the report was more damning for Trump than Barr had indicated.

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has claimed Trump and Barr are plotting to "weaponize law enforcement and classified information against their political enemies," while Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., has charged that Barr has "used his position to sell the president's false narrative to the American people."

The attorney general also failed to comply with a subpoena this month to turn over Mueller's full report and underlying evidence, material which members of the House Judiciary Committee say they need to conduct an obstruction of justice investigation into the president. Barr advised Trump earlier this month to assert executive privilege over Mueller's findings, warning Democrats their demands were asking him to break the law.

Democrats in the House are prepared to hold Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a subpoena to provide lawmakers with Mueller's full report.

By Shira Tarlo

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