Special Counsel Mueller Makes First Public Statement on Russia Probe
Special counsel Robert Mueller made his first public statement on the Trump-Russia investigation Wednesday, reiterating that if his investigators “had confidence the president had not committed a crime, we would have said so,” but beyond that saying very little.
Mueller spoke for about 10 minutes at the Justice Department Wednesday morning, largely repeating the conclusions of his now mostly public report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.
In fact, the biggest revelation of Mueller’s appearance was his announcement that he is resigning from the Justice Department to return to private life.
He also obliquely suggested he does not want to testify before Congress on the report or his investigation.
“The work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony,” Mueller said.
It was announced in advance that Mueller would not take any questions, and he left the podium following his remarks without acknowledging the reporters in the room.
His public appearance came against a backdrop of demands that he testify on Capitol Hill about his findings and media accounts that say he and Attorney General William Barr has been at odds over the AG’s handling of the special counsel’s report.
Though Mueller dropped no bombshells, his appearance Wednesday was noteworthy because he was incredibly tight-lipped throughout the investigation and had made no public statements at all since his appointment in May 2017.
Even Peter Carr, the spokesman for the special counsel’s office, only rarely commented on the inquiry while it was in progress, and then often only to announce a filing of public charges or that a staff member was coming or going.
The only time the special counsel’s office broke form in any way was in January, when it sought to correct the record on what it said was a deeply flawed published report on the investigation.
House Democrats want Mueller to testify publicly, and in recent days several published reports have suggested he would prefer to testify privately or to not testify at all. So far, no date or arrangements for any appearance have been set.
On Wednesday Mueller said he “would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.”
As Mueller said near the top of his remarks, the special counsel office’s report did not find that the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians to game the presidential election.
But, despite Trump’s repeated assertions to the contrary, it also did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed justice.
As he said in the report, Mueller on Wednesday said he did not think it would be fair to publicly accuse the president of a crime if he was not going to charge him, and that he was constrained by a “long-standing” Justice Department legal opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted while in office.
Mueller made clear in his remarks that President Trump was never at risk of being charged with a crime stemming from the investigation because “charging the president … was not an option we could have considered.”
“It would have been unfair to accuse someone of a crime when there could be no resolution in a court of law,” he said.
Among those parsing each of the special counsel’s words was the president himself, who tweeted shortly after their conclusion: “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.”
Mueller did say there were “multiple, systematic efforts” to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and damage to Democrat Hillary Clinton, and that these efforts “deserve the attention of every American.”
Mueller detailed that meddling in an indictment last year, charging 12 Russian military intelligence officers with hacking Democratic email accounts, and he only touched on them briefly on Wednesday.
Mueller has remained a Justice Department employee since submitting the report in March, though neither he nor the Justice Department has said what he’s been doing since the special counsel’s office wrapped up its work.
Mueller also didn’t comment on his reputed disagreement with Attorney General Barr.
Two days after Mueller submitted his report to the attorney general, Barr said he was surprised the special counsel did not reach a conclusion on the obstruction of justice issue, and he decided with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that the evidence did not support such an allegation.
Mueller later privately complained to Barr that a four-page letter the attorney general wrote summarizing his main conclusions did not adequately capture the investigation’s findings.
Barr called Mueller’s letter “snitty” in congressional testimony this month in which he defended his decision to reach a conclusion on obstruction in place of Mueller.
The attorney general was in Anchorage, Alaska for a meeting with local officials on Wednesday and did not immediately comment on Mueller’s statement.
Before leaving the microphone, Mueller thanked the “attorneys, FBI agents, analysts and professional staff” who spent nearly two years of their lives working on the investigation, calling them “people of the highest integrity.”
In a statement, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he still believes Mueller needs to testify before Congress, and that Attorney General Barr should release the full, unredacted report to Congress.
“In his remarks, Special Counsel Mueller made it clear that charges were not brought against President Trump because of a Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime,” Hoyer said.”Given that the President has not been cleared of wrongdoing, and given the seriousness of Russia’s interference in our democracy, I believe that the American people deserve to hear testimony from the Special Counsel about his report and the report’s conclusions.
“House Democrats will continue to fulfill our constitutional obligation to hold the Administration accountable,” Hoyer said. But Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Mueller’s remarks on Wednesday only reinforced the findings of his report.
“And as for me, the case is over,” Graham said. “Mr. Mueller has decided to move on and let the report speak for itself. Congress should follow his lead.
Graham added: “It is now time to move on and to work together in a bipartisan fashion to harden our election infrastructure against future attempts by Russia and other bad actors.
“We should also work together to solve our nation’s problems like high prescription drug prices and broken infrastructure,” he said.
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