Donald Trump says the 'case is closed' after Mueller speaks out on report for the first time
Amid calls for the special counsel to testify before Congress, and chatter amongst former prosecutors, several Democrats and one Republican to impeach Donald Trump, Robert Mueller made a rare public appearance. On Friday morning, the special counsel threw a press conference to speak out on his report for the first time. The 448-page document, released last month, contained the results of a two-year investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 US election, and possible obstruction of justice on behalf of Trump.
The report concluded that Russian interference occurred "in sweeping and systematic fashion" during the 2016 election. Investigators "identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign," which resulted in criminal charges for 34 individuals, several of them close to Trump. But despite these connections, the report did not establish that the Trump campaign "coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities."
As for obstruction of justice, the FBI did not reach a judgment. The report chronicles at least ten times Trump may have attempted to obstruct justice, but states these "efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful...largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests." As a result, the report "does not conclude that the President committed a crime, [but] it also does not exonerate him." Mueller cited a 1973 Justice Department memo that precludes indicting a sitting president, but noted that Congress can investigate.
At the press conference, the special counsel reiterated his statements from the report, and insisted he had nothing further to add. "If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," Mueller said. He went on to explain that the Justice Department policy precludes indicting a sitting president, so "charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider." He did not say whether or not Trump committed a crime, just like in his report.
In March, Attorney General William Barr - Trump's appointee - released a summary of the Mueller report's principal conclusions. Trump falsely stated the results were "total exoneration," although he was specifically not exonerated on the charge of obstruction of justice. (Earlier this month, we learned Mueller wrote a letter to Barr complaining about his summary, stating it "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance" of the report's work or conclusions.)
A month later, the redacted 448-page report was released, and contained various examples of unsavory behavior on behalf of the Trump team: Trump attempted to obstruct justice at least ten times, but failed, because people didn't follow his orders; members of Trump's campaign knew they would benefit from Russia's illegal actions but did not take criminal steps to help; White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders conceded that she misled the media about the firing of FBI director James Comey; and after Mueller was hired as special counsel, Trump reportedly said, "Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f***ed."
In response, Trump called the report's statements "total bullsh*t," which is quite a turnaround from "total exoneration." On Twitter, The Donald has repeatedly characterized the investigation as a "witch hunt" thrown by "13 Angry Democrats," although investigators served criminal charges to 34 people (that's a lot of witches!) and Robert Mueller is a registered Republican. Following the special counsel's press conference, Trump made yet another false statement to the American public.
"Nothing changes from the Mueller Report," Trump tweeted. "There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you."
While Mueller's team did not determine Trump committed a crime, they also did not exonerate him. By repeatedly stating the Justice Department policy that precludes indicting sitting presidents, Mueller is essentially saying that charging Trump with a crime was never an option. He also said he doesn't have "confidence" that Trump "did not commit a crime." Critics say that means Trump did commit a crime and could not be charged, so Congress should immediately take action to impeach - but at the same time, Mueller did not call on Congress to take action.
Is the case truly closed, as Trump declared, like the police chief in a 1980's TV show? With Democratic presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker calling for impeachment proceedings to begin, that seems doubtful.