Special Counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday that charging Donald Trump with a crime of obstruction was not an option because of Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president.
“Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office,” Mueller said in his first public comments in two years. “That is unconstitutional.
“A Special Counsel’s Office is part of the Department of Justice, and by regulation, it was bound by that department policy,” Mueller said.
“Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider,” the former FBI director said.
“The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing,” Mueller added, in what appeared to be a reference to the impeachment powers of Congress.
At the same time, Mueller reiterated that his report into Russian interference in the 2016 election specifically did not exonerate the president on the issue of obstruction of justice.
In his report, the special council laid out several incidents in which Trump attempted to obstruct his investigation.
“The president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” the report said.
But Mueller made no finding on whether Trump committed a crime because of Justice Department policy.
“It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge,” he said.
Special counsel Robert Mueller explained why he couldn’t charge President Trump with a crime.
Mueller reiterated the finding in his report, saying if his office “had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” https://t.co/q1crzE7trV pic.twitter.com/fQX3N4KH8f
— CNN (@CNN) May 29, 2019
“Those were the principles under which we operated, and from them we concluded that we would not reach a determination one way or the other about whether the president committed 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.”
Democratic Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter that Mueller’s statement amounted to an “impeachment referral” to Congress.
Mueller leaves no doubt:
1) He didn’t exonerate the president because there is evidence he committed crimes.
2) Justice Department policy prevented him from charging the president with any crimes.
3) The Constitution leaves it up to Congress to act—and that’s impeachment.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 29, 2019
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, however, has thus far been skeptical about the idea of impeaching Trump, suggesting it could backfire politically for her party.
However, the Speaker of the House said in a statement Wednesday that “the Congress holds sacred its constitutional responsibility to investigate and hold the President accountable for his abuse of power.”
“Despite Department of Justice policy to the contrary, no one is above the law – not even the President,” she added.
Mueller also said that if he was called to testify before Congress – as some Democrats are demanding – he would say no more than what is already in report.
“I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak about this matter,” he said. “I am making that decision myself – no one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter.”
Mueller ended by reiterating what he called “the central allegation of our indictments – that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election.”
“That allegation deserves the attention of every American.”
Mueller said that with the completion of the investigation he was resigning from the Justice Department to return to private life.
Following Mueller’s statement, Trump declared on Twitter that “the case is closed.”