Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in his first public appearance since being appointed to lead the Russia investigation, broke his silence Wednesday in saying his team did not have the “option” to charge President Trump with a crime because of Department of Justice policy, adding his report “would have said so” if they had “confidence” the president did not commit a crime.
Mueller, spaking from the Justice Department Wednesday morning, detailed the findings of the Russia investigation, underscoring the contention in his report that there “was not sufficient evidence to charge a conspiracy” over whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election.
But Mueller did not mince words on the special counsel’s inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice. “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said. “We did not determine whether the president did commit a crime.”
Mueller explained longstanding Justice Department policy, which states that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime. “Charging the president with a crime was not an option we could consider,” Mueller explained, adding that “it would be unfair to accuse someone of a crime when there could be no court resolution of the charge.”
“The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse the president of wrongdoing,” Mueller said Wednesday, echoing his report which states that Congress “may apply obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”
“We concluded that we would not reach a determination one way or the other about whether the president committed a crime,” Mueller added. “That is the office’s final position.”
Mueller also announced Wednesday that the special counsel’s office was officially closed and that he would be resigning from the Justice Department as special counsel to return to private life. “I am speaking out today because our investigation is complete,” Mueller said. “The attorney general has made the report on our investigation largely public. We are formally closing the special counsel’s office. And as well, I’m resigning from the Department of Justice to return to private life.” The Justice Department announced Mueller would make a statement on Wednesday morning–his first in the more than two years since he was appointed as special counsel. A senior White House official told Fox News that the White House was advised on Tuesday night of Mueller’s plans.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Wednesday morning that President Trump was “aware” Mueller’s remarks were coming but had no comment when asked whether the White House had advanced knowledge of the substance of Mueller’s remarks. Sanders also had no comment on whether the president would make a public statement after Mueller speaks. Meanwhile, multiple sources familiar with the situation told Fox News that Attorney General Bill Barr was aware of Mueller’s plans to deliver a statement Wednesday. One source told Fox News that Barr has also been made aware of the contents of Mueller’s statement. The attorney general, though, will not be at the Justice Department for Mueller’s appearance, and is, instead, traveling to Alaska to meet with law enforcement officials.
Mueller’s appearance comes amid mounting pressure for Mueller to testify before the House Judiciary Committee in a public setting as part of that panel’s oversight investigation of the probe and the Trump administration.
The committee, led by Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has been in negotiations with Mueller to schedule a hearing for the special counsel, but it is unclear if and when he will appear. Meanwhile, the special counsel’s office this week issued a rare denial in response to questions about controversial author Michael Wolff’s upcoming book, “Siege: Trump Under Fire,” which reportedly claims that Mueller drew up an obstruction of justice indictment against President Trump.
According to The Guardian’s Edward Helmore, Wolff reports that Mueller’s office planned to charge the president with “influencing, obstructing or impeding a pending proceeding,” “tampering with a witness, victim or informant” and “retaliating against a witness, victim or informant” but eventually decided to “shelve” it. The Guardian reporter claimed he viewed the document, but the special counsel’s office denied it even exists. “The documents described do not exist,” Mueller spokesman Peter Carr told Fox News on Tuesday.
Last month, Mueller’s report, with redactions covering sources and methods, and grand jury material, was released to the public and to Congress. The special counsel found no evidence of collusion between the Russians and members of the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election. Mueller was also leading an inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice, outlining 10 instances that could have been perceived as obstruction. Mueller did not, however, come to a conclusion on that matter.
Attorney General Bill Barr, in March, upon reviewing Mueller’s report, said in his four-page summary that the special counsel’s investigation did not find evidence sufficient to charge the president with an obstruction of justice offense. Barr has come under intense scrutiny over his handling of the report. The House Judiciary Committee, earlier this month, voted to hold him in contempt after he failed to comply with a subpoena to turn over an unredacted version of the Mueller report and its underlying documents and evidence to the committee. The president, then, asserted executive privilege in a bid to protect those files from release.