Special Counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday that he couldn’t reach a conclusion on whether Donald Trump obstructed justice, as he stopped short of delivering a full exoneration of the president.
“If we had had confidence the president clearly did not commit a crime we would have said so,” Mueller said in his first public remarks in the two years since he was named special counsel. He defended his investigation, as he announced that he was closing his office and stepping down.
Mueller sent a clear signal to House Democrats who have demanded his testimony that he won’t provide any information that hasn’t already been made public. “Any testimony from this office would not go beyond this report,” he said.
The special counsel also said he found “insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy” on election interference.
Soon after, Trump tweeted: “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.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders added in a statement, “After two years, the special counsel is moving on with his life, and everyone else should do the same.”
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, who has been negotiating with Mueller on testifying to his panel, said that “the Constitution points to Congress to take action to hold the president accountable."
“Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the president, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump -- and we will do so," Nadler said in a statement.
Read Special Counsel Mueller’s Full Statement
Mueller’s remarks came amid fierce partisan disputes over the 448-page report he completed two months ago on Russian interference in the 2016 election, any links to the Trump campaign and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice. Mueller underscored that Justice Department policy prevented him from considering criminal charges against Trump.
“Under long-standing department policy a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional,” he said. “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
That appears to contradict what Attorney General William Barr said publicly, when he disputed that Mueller’s decision not to charge Trump was based on the Justice Department policy, written by its Office of Legal Counsel.
Barr told reporters on April 18 that Mueller “made it very clear several times that that was not his position. He was not saying that but for the OLC opinion he would have found a crime," he added. "He made it clear that he had not made the determination that there was a crime."
Read more: Mueller vs. Barr: How They Framed Russia Probe’s Findings
Mueller’s report, with some redactions, was released by Barr on April 18 -- but only after he issued summaries that Democrats said were tilted to favor Trump. Barr said Mueller reached no conclusion on obstruction of justice by Trump so he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made their own finding that there wasn’t evidence to make a criminal case against the president. The summaries led to Trump’s frequent tweets that Mueller found “NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION!”
Mueller complained about Barr’s summaries in a letter to the attorney general in March that later was made public.
“The summary letter the department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller wrote. Barr dismissed the complaint as “a bit snitty” in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mueller has been in negotiations with the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee, which wants to question him over his findings. The veteran prosecutor and former FBI director has balked at testifying in public, saying he doesn’t want to be dragged into a political fight, according to people who asked not to be identified discussing the continuing negotiations. Among the options Mueller has raised is making a public statement before taking questions from lawmakers behind closed doors.
While the special counsel’s probe has been closed, he had remained in his post as a Justice Department employee. His final report included notice that he referred 14 investigations to various U.S. attorneys, most of which still remain secret.