WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday that charging President Donald Trump with a crime was “not an option” because of federal rules, but he used his first public remarks on the Russia investigation to emphasize that he did not exonerate the president.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller declared.

The special counsel’s remarks stood as a pointed rebuttal to Trump’s repeated claims that he was cleared and that the two-year inquiry was merely a “witch hunt.” They also marked a counter to criticism, including by Attorney General William Barr, that Mueller should have reached a determination on whether the president illegally tried to obstruct the probe by taking actions such as firing his FBI director.

Mueller made clear that his team never considered indicting Trump because the Justice Department prohibits the prosecution of a sitting president.

“Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider,” Mueller said in a televised statement. He said he believed such an action would be unconstitutional.

Mueller did not use the word ‘impeachment,” but said it was the job of Congress — not the criminal justice system — to hold the president accountable for any wrongdoing.

The special counsel’s statement largely echoed the central points of his lengthy report, which was released last month with some redactions. But his remarks, just under 10 minutes long and delivered from a Justice Department podium, were extraordinary given that he had never before discussed or characterized his findings and had stayed mute during two years of feverish public speculation.

Mueller, a former FBI director, said Wednesday that his work was complete and he was resigning to return to private life. Under pressure to testify before Congress, Mueller did not rule it out. But he seemed to warn lawmakers that they would not be pulling more detail out of him. His report is his testimony, he said.

“So beyond what I have said here today and what is contained in our written work,” Mueller said, “I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress.”

His remarks underscored the unsettled resolution, and revelations of behind-the-scenes discontent, that accompanied the end of his investigation. His refusal to reach a conclusion on criminal obstruction opened the door for Barr to clear the president, who in turn has cited the attorney general’s finding as proof of his innocence. Mueller has privately vented to Barr about the attorney general’s handling of the report, while Barr has publicly said he was taken aback by the special counsel’s decision to neither exonerate nor incriminate the president.

Trump, given notice Tuesday evening that Mueller would speak the next morning, watched on television. For weeks, he had been nervous about the possibility about the special counsel testifying before Congress, worried about the visual power of such a public appearance.

Shortly after Mueller concluded, the president, who has repeatedly and falsely claimed that the report cleared him of obstruction of justice, tweeted a subdued yet still somewhat inaccurate reaction: “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”

While claiming victory, the tone of the president’s tweet was a far cry from the refrain of “total exoneration” that has dominated his declarations.

Mueller’s comments, one month after the public release of his report on Russian efforts to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton, 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 in the probe.

He described wide-ranging and criminal Russian efforts to interfere in the election, including by hacking and spreading disinformation — interference that Trump has said Putin rejected to his face in an “extremely strong and powerful” denial. And Mueller called the question of later obstruction by Trump and his campaign a matter of “paramount importance.”

The special counsel said the absence of a conclusion on obstruction should not be mistaken for exoneration.

A long-standing Justice Department legal opinion “says the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” Mueller said. That would shift the next move, if any, to Congress, and the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which would investigate further or begin any impeachment effort, commented quickly.

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler said it falls to Congress to respond to the “crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump — and we will do so.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far discouraged members of her caucus from demanding impeachment, believing it would only help Trump win re-election and arguing that Democrats need to follow a methodical, step by step approach to investigating the president. But she hasn’t ruled it out.

On the Republican side, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that Mueller “has decided to move on and let the report speak for itself. Congress should follow his lead.”

Trump has blocked House committees’ subpoenas and other efforts to dig into the Trump-Russia issue, insisting Mueller’s report has settled everything.

The report found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to tip the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor. But it also did not reach a conclusion on whether the president had obstructed justice.

Barr has said he was surprised Mueller did not reach a conclusion, though Mueller in his report and again in his statement Wednesday said he had no choice. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein then stepped into the void, deciding on their own that the evidence was not sufficient to support a criminal charge.

“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 public view that, too, is prohibited.”

Barr, in Alaska for work and briefed ahead of time on Mueller’s statement, did not answer a question about the Mueller probe Wednesday at the end of a roundtable discussion with Alaska native leaders. He has said that he asked Mueller during a March conversation if he would have recommended charging Trump “but for” the Office of Legal Counsel opinion, and that Mueller said “no.”

Mueller, for his part, earlier complained privately to Barr that he believed a four-page letter from the attorney general summarizing the report’s main conclusions did not adequately represent his findings. Barr has said he considered Mueller’s criticism to be a bit “snitty.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(46) comments

Lev928

Many of the corrupt Dems and part of the "special counsel" will be feeling the effects of the Constitution and law in short order.

jerseygrl42

to the 3 mousekeeters; there is no news here...same thing stated weeks ago and in the released report...if one is not or cannot be proven guilty then one is innocent and that has been the standard since the beginning of this country...try as they might the lefties can't find a thing to hang their hats on and in the meantime thousands of illegals are crossing our borders daily and they do NOTHING to protect the citizens of this country...sick!

awteam2000

Rbtdt5,

In volume 2, Mueller notes the following instances of ‘obstruction of justice’

(p. 43) Trump’s instruction to the FBI Director to ‘let Flynn go’ suggests his awareness that Flynn could face criminal exposure for his conduct and was at risk of prosecution.

(p. 60): directives to improperly interfere with the investigation.

(p. 74): Firing Comey

(p. 87): Don McGahn provides evidence that Trump attempted to fire Mueller.

(p. 97): Trump’s effort to force Sessions to confine the investigation to only investigating future election interference

(p. 105): Trump sought to prevent information about the Trump Tower meeting from reaching Congress or the special counsel’s office.

(p. 111): effort to have Sessions unrecused himself to stop investigation.

(p. 118): Trump orders McGahn to fire Mueller.

(p. 131): Trump’s actions toward witnesses … would qualify as obstructive

(p. 153): Trump directs and aided Cohen’s false testimony.

There probably more.

rbtdt5

I see a few straws to grab at but nothing that could stick here. Eitherway, Mueller has left the building. It's over now. NEXT

MRS M

rb provides us, just like a puppet sitting on Trump's lap, a perfect example of why Mueller should be subpoenaed to testify before the House. Most of America would benefit from hearing from Mueller directly. In fact, that plus the coverage of all the other cases, investigations, and outstanding supoenas against Trump, will serve to help the Democrats win resoundingly in 2020. Sure, Impeachment is assuredly a losing battle to gain any support from Republicans in the Senate. Castrated in fear by Trump......and willing to sell their very souls to look the other way in their own personal Hell, they'll remain silent until polls begin to show that a majority of Americans despise the Republican Party and will not be voting for them in 2020. History will not be kind. No profiles in courage here, although interestingly, Justin Amash received a standing ovation in his Republican district for calling out Trump for the criminal and prospective felon he is. LOOK! Rare as a unicorn! A Republican with a spine!

Bart Rowe

The sand is running out of the hourglass on the life long criminal, tax cheat, racist, narcissistic bully, philanderer, liar, phony, traitor..... He will end up in prison where he belongs. just a matter of time.

DickD

No exoneration, no witch hunt!  Did you get that message Trumpettes?  More to come, be prepared for Trump to attempt a plea deal to get out of going to jail, as he leaves the office of the POTUS.

olefool

I am wondering why some skeptics who speak here ever read the Mueller report. I did, and It seems pretty clear to me that Trump is guilty of major crimes. But these skeptics are only selectively skeptical. They think themselves enlightened for resisting all this new proof and remaining steadfast in mistrusting anything that someone else says. But it is a false enlightenment to accept only those ideas that align with one's worldview and reject those that don't.

rbtdt5

What are the major crimes you believe him to be guilty of? What in the report led you to these beliefs? I'm not reading a 400 page report, I have better things to do but if you want to point out certain points I will be happy to read those sections

DickD

Read Ms.M below, Rb.

rbtdt5

She didn't quote anything from the report

MRS M

Or better yet, take some personal responsibility for understanding, and protecting the democracy you live in. First step....turn off Fox State Television. Then, should you be interested, read the Report, showing that you have the ability to think independently, draw some conclusions that make sense, and accept the fact that the Attorney General of the United States has lied and misrepresented the facts of the Mueller Report in subservience to Trump. Barr sold his soul to defend the indefensible. Should you be so easily convinced to do the same?

olefool

If you won't read the report you have no standing to comment here. Like I said earlier, if you don't know, you just don't know..

Jleftwich

Quote from rbtdt5: "I'm not reading a 400 page report".

Lazy. I'm sure you derided Democrats for not reading what was in the Obamacare bill. But when its YOUR guy, you put blinders on.

rbtdt5

Never mind. This is over. Mueller has walked away, Barr has said that Trump isn't getting charged and the senate has made it clear they will squash any impeachment attempts. It's time to move forward. Maybe come to the table and get an infrastructure or immigration bill going. OR keep crying about this dead horse.

DickD

[yawn]

olefool

The horse ain't dead yet rbt, the investigation will proceed to congress where Mueller intended it to go. Do you really believe all criminals who declare innocence despite overwhelming evidence of their guilt should be released pardoned?? Doi you really believe that a perp manipulating the rule of law to infer disproven innocence is acceptable??

DickD

They watch to much Faux News. olefool.

olefool

DickD: Several of Faux News favorites went on air ast evening and took Mueller's side of the issue. The said Barr is a shill, and now a co conspirator, for Trump's illegal actions. As for Hannity, I searched for an apt description of him, ca up with one word: Odious.

MRS M

Yeah, I saw this this too. Brett Baier and Judge Napolitano on Fox Business have turned, as has Chris Wallace and Shep Smith, all journalists trying to preserve a shred of relevance and professional reputation, all oping to salvage their careers post-Trump. As for the bloviated "opinionmakers" from the 8-10 pm hours on FOX.............well, these 'loyal" slimeballs will slither away after Trump is defeated and be "reborn" in their afterlife working in Trump's TV network, continuing to support kooks, criminals, conspiracy theorists, and those re-writing history to cast "the stable genius" and his presidency as a success.

Blueline

Since you read & understood the report, I'm curious what Law school you went to?

olefool

OU Law, Class of '63... and you???

Blueline

I'm not a lawyer, but since you asked, CPA, MBA in Finance. I chose a somewhat honorable, but perhaps less lucrative, profession.

awteam2000

Blueline,

The Mueller report isn’t written in a lot of ‘legal law language’. It’s pretty straightforward, not hard to read or understand. Two Volumes, separated into sections. Volume I covers Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and Volume II covers potential obstruction of justice by Trump.

newspostreader

This right here says it all: “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,”
But according to yet another Trump Twitter Meltdown, he's been proved innocent.

des21

Wow, I know these guys are lawyers but Mueller is right up there with Comey when it comes to being non-committal. Glad he backed Barr- love that guy- he just doesn't care what "smart" people think of him. As a former CIA man he knows how rotten and arrogant ("they can't touch us") the intelligence community can be!

By all means the Democrats should impeach the President. It will show most Americans that they have no legislative agenda (that's why Pelosi, despite her tenuous grasp of reality (I think all the face lefts have effected her brain[wink]) is desperately trying to avoid being sidetracked by an Impeachment that of course will not lead to a conviction. Her first tenure as Speaker, while lavishly (and expensively) celebrated, led to nothing in 2 years. She'd rather not go down that road again.

In any event it'll cement Trump's 45% (all he needs is a well placed 4% more to win again- that is easily achieved- Minnesota, NH, NM, Nevada all are ripe for the picking. Americans realize that this guy- for all his weirdness- has improved their lives. They could care less about Russian meddling on Facebook or how much he earned in 2015) while demonstrating the pettiness of the democratic nit-pickers to all but those who comment here. Trump will win in a walk.

CheetoBenito

You. Are. Insane.

MRS M

Our very own man of letters and self-proclaimed student of history is content in following the Republican Party's MO on Trump. Silence. Better to distract with Hilary and Pelosi, than to deal with threats to the Constitution and the absolute aberrancy of Trump, his actions, and his words. From the leadership of the Grand Ole Party, to the lowest local hack, fueled by Fox State News and little else, Republicans continue to act like those monkeys, who "hear-no-evil see-no-evil or speak no evil". Having not read the report, but happy to take Barr's dishonest "interpretation", I believe they make a critical mis-judgement of the American voter, whether on the Trump presidency and his lies, the limiting of women's rights to abortion, the attacks on Justice and America's Intelligence community, or the perceived threat American's feel from the "invaders" at the border . All the better. Their increasing irrelevance speaks for itself, in their silence. Plus, they have folks like Dave (our very own Sarah Huckabee Sanders) ......protecting the administration while providing a "deep analysis" of the problems facing Democrats, while the world knows with certainty that Russia attacked America in 2015, while Trump chose to pursue a course of obstruction and lies in an investigation of the plot. Thanks, Sarah.

DickD

[thumbup][thumbup] Great comment, M.

des21

I don't know about Cheeto Mrs. M. but you , as a former educator, know that ad hominins betray a lack of intellectual rigor on the part of the one employing them. "Attack on the justice (I don't now what that means as that is supremely subjective) and the intelligence community"? Well of course that's appropriate if they've become politicized and gone rogue!! Are they above the law? Why?

It must be a terrible burden for you to have such a unique understanding of the issues facing America today (you and AW.) The rest of us live our lives, enjoy the extra pay we're getting and know that, whatever good or bad Trump does will be largely undone by his successor if he/she is from the other party which is usually the case. I'm just fearful that the lot of Democrats are promising to change America beyond recognition and I am opposed to that- strongly.

I don't watch Fox or any other cable news. Sorry to disabuse you of that popular narrative and I must say I've never watched Ms. Sanders (is it?) in action. I do admire her father as a good man. Too good for the Presidency in fact which tends to attract megalomaniacs IMO. (GWB being an obvious recent exception. I hope there are others.) You may be right, perhaps Trump is the worst leader since Caligula but I kind of doubt that. In any event, this too shall pass.

MRS M

des, you seem either confused, or misinformed. I'm not a former "educator"; so unlike you, I don't find extra dollars in my paycheck, most of which are the result of the union which represents you, (but which you are known to repeatedly deride). Justice (with a capital "J" ) and our Intelligence agencies are under attack by the president of the US and his proven liar and "fixer", AG William Barr, as he becomes further backed into a corner as the Trump criminal investigation continues. (conspiracy theorist much, des?) As for the issues facing America today, I'm unsure why some continually feel the need to comment on them....particularly when their comments contain the proud but truly sad admission that they really don't know what's going on. Finally.........when the Trump presidency ends, America will NOT be the same. Trump has destroyed one characteristic of those with character: the ability to speak the truth. In conjunction with Fox State News, the message of Trump, and your Republican Party that supports him in silence, is that any and all lies are on the table, while having a "news" company to broadcast and underwrite those lies. A presidency set up during the campaign (with help from the Russians) with the statement: "If I don't win, it proves the election was rigged". Thanks, Sarah.

DickD

Nah, he has a PHD in politics. [tongue_smile]

Jleftwich

Quote from Des: " They could care less about Russian meddling on Facebook..."

I agree. Not enough people care that a foreign power meddled with our election -- including Trump. Talk about doing nothing; ought he not work to ensure our fundamental rights and privileges are protected from it ever happening again?

olefool

“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” Trump said.

For some, the quote immediately recalled a line from Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

rbtdt5

"While we recognize that the man did not actually steal any horses, he is obviously guilty of trying to resist being hanged for it" - David H.

shiftless88

You realize that you can be charged with resisting arrest, correct?

rbtdt5

Trump didn't do that either. Love it though. Hillary IS guilty but we aren't going to charge her. Trump isn't guilty but should be charge anyway. Keep beating this dead horse through 2020, I'm sure it will work out well.

DickD

When are we going to meet at the Main Cup for the glass of wine you are going to owe me? [beam]

shiftless88

sure des; things are getting better every day...... https://www.fredericknewspost.com/public/ap/us-stocks-close-lower-on-track-for-st-monthly-loss/article_1e534047-1a75-5d1b-b584-6d946921b6bf.html

stjohn42

Another des21 post of Faux News talking points presented as facts.

gary4books

Can you share a citation (link) to "rotten and arrogant ("they can't touch us")..."? I never met anyone like that.

threecents

If the House goes forward with impeachment, I think it would be a huge mistake to only charge Trump with obstruction. Tax fraud, campaign violations, and emoluments violations should be included.

olefool

I think Nadler has all that on the table too. Trump is already an (technically) unindicted co-conspirator.

DickD

There will be more three. Trump is very likely to end up in jail, first POTUS ever to end that way.

jerseygrl42

ignorance of the law will get you nowhere

gary4books

And that is why some want to wait. Given enough early charges, some who know may cut a deal and that will open up the books to what he really did.

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