Trump was not exonerated by Russia inquiry report, says Mueller

‘If we had had confidence that the president did not commit a crime we would have said so’

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicated that he does not want to testify before Congress over the Russia investigation, potentially opening up a new front in the battle between congressional Democrats and the Trump White House over the Mueller investigation.

In a surprise development, Mr Mueller delivered a statement at the department of justice on Tuesday, his first public statement on the Russia probe since he began his 22-month investigation into Russian electoral interference in May 2017.

“Any testimony from this office would not go beyond this report. It contains our findings, our analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made… The work speaks for itself,” he said. “The report is my testimony.”

Mr Mueller defended his decision not to make a judgement on whether president Donald Trump had obstructed justice in his report.


Noting that he was working under justice department guidelines, he said: “Under longstanding department policy a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional.”

He continued: “The constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing… It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge.”

However, he noted that “if we had had confidence that the president did not commit a crime we would have said so”.

At several points during his statement he highlighted Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. There had been “multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election,” he said.

Mr Mueller was appointed more than two years ago to head-up the Department of Justice’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Following the firing of FBI head James Comey by Mr Trump, then deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein appointed Mr Mueller as special counsel. His mandate was to investigate “any links and/or co-ordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation”.

In March Mr Mueller submitted his final report to attorney general William Barr after 22 months of investigation. 48 hours later Mr Barr submitted a four-page summary of the report to Congress. Among the report’s key findings, he said, was that Mr Mueller found no evidence of collusion by Mr Trump’s team and Russia, though the special counsel had stopped short of exonerating the president from accusations that he had obstructed justice.

In April Mr Barr published the full report, in redacted form. It included information that had not been part of Mr Barr’s summary, including claims that Mr Trump had instructed White House counsel Don McGahn during the summer of 2017 to remove Mueller.

Mr Mueller’s intervention takes place against a background of intense debate and division about how much oversight Democrats in Congress should have over the US president following the publication of the report.

Since the publication of the redacted report, Democrats have vowed to continue scrutiny of the president, and key committees have subpoenaed documents related to the report. They have also requested that key figures involved in the Mueller report testify before committees, including Mr Barr, Mr Mueller and Mr McGahn. But these efforts have been blocked by the Trump administration, with Mr Trump accusing Democrats of engaging in a “witch-hunt” and not accepting the findings of the Mueller report.

Mr Mc Gahn, who left the White House last year and now works in the private sector, did not show up to a scheduled hearing by the House Judiciary Committee last week after the White House ordered him not to attend. The Trump administration argued that Mr McGahn had full immunity from a forced congressional testimony, citing several legal precedents.

Democrats have also initiated contempt proceedings against Mr Barr for not furnishing them with a full, unredacted copy of the Mueller report.

While no charges against Mr Trump or his family arose from the Mueller report, 34 people were indicted for crimes arising from the special counsel’s work, including six former Trump associates.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent