Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday made his first public comments about his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Reading from a lectern at the Justice Department, Mueller pushed back on Democratic lawmakers’ calls for him to testify before Congress about his work. He said that the more than 400-page report he filed in March his final word on the two-year probe.
“The report is my testimony,” Mueller told the assembled press. “I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.”
Mueller said he was formally resigning from the Justice Department and closing down the special counsel’s office. He said he wanted to return to private life.
He thanked Attorney General William Barr, who was in Alaska meeting with tribal leaders during the statement, for publicly releasing the majority of his report. Democrats have accused Barr of engaging in a “cover up” on behalf of President Donald Trump.
Mueller also explained why he had declined to say whether Trump obstructed the federal investigations into Russian meddling, which eyed his campaign for possible collusion. Repeating the explanation offered in his report, Mueller noted that the Justice Department considers itself constitutionally disallowed from charging a sitting president with a crime.
No ‘No obstruction’
However, Mueller did not go as far as to clear the president of obstruction – as he effectively did of allegations of illegal coordination with Russia – saying that his team would have done so had they believed he didn’t commit a crime.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”
He added that the Constitution provides for another process to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing. It was a clear reference to the ability of Congress to begin impeachment proceedings.
Dems won’t believe Mueller won’t testify
Democrats interpreted Mueller’s remarks as a renewed mandate for their various House investigations of the president, though they continued to stop short of impeaching him. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Congress would keep scrutinizing Trump’s “crimes, lies and other wrongdoing.”
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. No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law. https://t.co/w61a8rRQeK
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) May 29, 2019
He added, “No one, not even the president of the United States, is above the law.”
Much of the media and liberal commentariat also seized on Mueller’s comments about obstruction. They characterized his words as a rebuff of Barr and Trump, who have questioned the need for the investigation and deemed the case closed.
Key from Mueller: “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.”
— Monica Alba (@albamonica) May 29, 2019
Some averred that Mueller was only playing coy when he suggested he didn’t want to testify to Congress.
Relax, folks. Mueller played this right:
If he’d appeared eager to testify, he’d have opened himself up to claims of being political.
If compelled to appear, he will deliver the damning lines from the report on live TV without such claims.
The next step is yours, Congress. pic.twitter.com/Kgz6pNJNuM
— David Priess (@DavidPriess) May 29, 2019
But a number of conservatives pointed out that it isn’t the justice system’s job to prove innocence.
Is this how it works? Isn't it the other way around? You look for evidence that a crime was committed, and if you don't find it you say "we didn't find any." You don't look for evidence that it wasn't and then say, "we couldn't find evidence of innocence." https://t.co/nkMeI2O2BA
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) May 29, 2019
Trump took to Twitter to celebrate the end of the investigation, repeating “The case is closed.”
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.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2019