Robert Mueller defends decision not to issue Trump judgment
Special counsel says department policy stopped him adjudicating on obstruction of justice
Special counsel Robert Mueller has defended his decision not to adjudicate on whether US president Donald Trump obstructed justice, arguing that justice department rules prevented him from doing so during his 22-month investigation into Russian election interference.
In a surprise intervention, Mr Mueller delivered a statement on Wednesday, his first public comment on the Russia inquiry since he was appointed special counsel in May 2017.
“Under longstanding department policy a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional,” he said during a 10-minute address. “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
But Mr Mueller also pointedly asserted that he had not exonerated Mr Trump from wrongdoing. “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.” This comment was seized upon by Democrats.
Mr Mueller’s report, which was released in redacted form on April 18th by attorney general William Barr, says that investigators found “substantial evidence” that the president tried to obstruct justice, including by directing the chief White House lawyer to have Mr Mueller removed.
Mr Mueller’s claim during the address that only Congress can decide if a president is guilty of wrongdoing may increase problems for Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is battling divisions within her own party about whether to impeach Mr Trump.
Ms Pelosi has urged caution in considering impeachment, noting that Republicans, who have a majority in the Senate, would be unlikely to turn against their president.
“The case has to be very compelling to the American people,” she said yesterday. But others within her party believe there is sufficient evidence within the report to consider impeachment proceedings.
In a further setback for Democrats, Mr Mueller indicated he would not testify before Congress.
“The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress,” he said. “The work speaks for itself.”
Responding to Mr Mueller’s statement, Jerry Nadler, the head of the House judiciary committee, said Democrats would continue their investigations into Mr Trump.
“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,” he said.
However, he declined to answer when asked if his committee would subpoena Mr Mueller to testify.
On impeachment, he said “all options are on the table”.
“No one, not even the president of the United States, is above the law.”
Mr Trump welcomed Mr Mueller’s statement on Twitter. “The case is closed! Thank you,” he tweeted. “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent.”