Russia election probe did not exonerate Trump, says Mueller
WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday he was legally barred from charging President Donald Trump with a crime but pointedly emphasised that his Russia report did not exonerate the president.
If he could have cleared Trump of obstruction of justice he “would have said so,” Mueller said.
The special counsel’s remarks, his first in public since being tasked two years ago with investigating Russian interference to help Trump win the 2016 presidential election, stood as a strong rebuttal to Trump’s repeated claims that he was exonerated and that the inquiry was a “witch hunt” that found no crime.
Mueller made clear he was barred from indicting a sitting president and that it was Congress’ job to hold the president accountable for any wrongdoing.
“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.”
Under pressure to testify before Congress, Mueller did not rule it out.
But he seemed to warn lawmakers that they won’t be pulling more detail out of him.
His report is “my testimony,” Mueller said, and he won’t go beyond what is written in the report.
He strongly indicated that Congress is the proper venue, not the criminal justice system, for deciding whether action should be taken against the president in connection with allegations that Trump and aides obstructed the investigation.
Trump, who has repeatedly and falsely claimed that Mueller’s report cleared him of obstruction of justice, modified that contention somewhat shortly after the special counsel’s remarks.
He tweeted, “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed!”
Mueller’s comments, one month after his report on Russian efforts to help Trump win the presidency, appeared intended to both justify the legitimacy of his investigation against complaints by the president and to explain his decision to not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed justice.
Indicting Trump, he said firmly, was “not an option” in light of a Justice Department legal opinion that says a sitting president cannot be charged. But, he said, the absence of a conclusion should not be mistaken for an exoneration of the president.