'If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,' Mueller said Wednesday.
Special counsel Robert Mueller broke his silence on Wednesday to publicly say that his lengthy report did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice — a bombshell statement that obliterates Trump's claim of "total exoneration" in Mueller's probe.
"The order appointing me special counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation," Mueller said from a podium at the Department of Justice. "We conducted that investigation and we kept the office of the acting attorney general apprised of the progress of our work. And as set forth in the report after that investigation, if we had 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."
Mueller was referring to the part of his investigation looking into whether Trump obstructed his probe into Russia's "systematic" attack on the 2016 election, and said that the obstruction probe was of "paramount importance" because his investigators needed all evidence to determine whether and how Russia attacked the 2016 election.
"When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government's effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable," Mueller said.
Mueller's report pointed to numerous instances in which Trump attempted to obstruct justice by shutting down Mueller's probe into Russia's actions in 2016.
Mueller said that, even though he investigated possible obstruction of justice, he was never going to be able to charge Trump with a crime, as it is against the Constitution for the Department of Justice to charge a sitting president.
"Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office," Mueller said. "That is unconstitutional, even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from view, that too is prohibited. Charging the president with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider."
Mueller's comment is important. It means that Attorney General William Barr's claim that there wasn't enough evidence to charge Trump with a crime was a lie.
"After carefully reviewing the facts and legal theories outlined in the report, and in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other department lawyers, the deputy attorney general and I concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense," Barr said at a shameful news conference meant to spin Mueller's finding ahead of the release of Mueller's report.
Mueller explicitly said that no matter what his team found in their investigation, they could never charge Trump. In fact, Mueller's report says that is up to Congress as part of their impeachment power — meaning discussion over whether to launch an impeachment inquiry is unlikely to end anytime soon.
Ultimately, this might be the last we ever hear from Mueller.
At his news conference, he said he was retiring from the Department of Justice, and that he won't make any public statements that go "beyond what I have said here today and what is contained in our written work."
However, the fact that Mueller broke his two-year silence to explicitly say that he did not exonerate Trump will surely leave a mark.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.