Wednesday morning was a mixture of anticipation, nervousness, and in some cases, what must have been fear as the Justice Department announced that special counsel Robert Mueller would be making his first public statement on the Russia probe since the handover of his findings to Attorney General William Barr a few months ago — one of the only public statements about the probe, period, for that matter.
Barr established almost immediately that he intended to obfuscate Mueller’s findings in the investigation when he released a 4-page “summary” after the handover in which he selectively quoted, quoted out of context, and omitted key passages from Mueller’s findings. That, in turn, caused Mueller — who served as the Director of the FBI for more than a decade — to send Barr a sternly-worded letter expressing his disapproval with the DOJ’s characterization of his findings.
The Trump administration has, based on Barr’s summary and not the actual Report, been repeating a constant refrain that Mueller found nothing untoward in the investigation about Trump. That was never the case, and the report clearly laid out that the only reason Trump was not charged was due to a longstanding rule within the DOJ that prohibited him from indicting a sitting President.
Mueller took the podium promptly at 11 AM EST. After describing indictments against Russian military and private officials who hacked the Clinton campaign in 2016 as described in Volume 1 of his report, he moved on to Volume 2, in which obstruction of justice was examined. Once again, Mueller explained that the DOJ preempted him from ever charging the President, and that he therefore did not ever pursue a line of questioning that may have ended in that result. But Mueller reiterated that if his office had found conclusive evidence that Trump did not commit obstruction of justice, they would have so indicated — leaving that charge on the table for Congress:
Charging the President with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could have considered.”
Mueller then said that a system other than the criminal justice system would have to take up any crimes committed by Trump, which can be considered an explicit call for Congress to investigate, hold hearings, and bring charges as warranted in an obstruction case.
Although Mueller told the gathered reporters that he did not want to testify before Congress, he said this was because he would be ethically bound not to go beyond what is already publicly known. He had already expressed reservations about creating a political spectacle, and testifying before hostile Republicans, whether in a private or public hearing, would certainly have been a spectacle.
AG Barr will now be hard-pressed to continue trying to claim that the report somehow exonerated Trump, as will the President himself — although we’re certain they’ll try.
Featured image via screen capture