'No determination on whether Trump committed a crime,’ Mueller says in first remarks since Russia report
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In his first public remarks since his appointment as special counsel, Robert Mueller reiterated that his team did not determine whether the US president committed a crime and said he would not comment beyond what is already public.
"I have not spoken publicly during our investigation. I am speaking today because our investigation is complete, Mueller said. "The attorney general (William Barr) has made the report on our investigation largely public. And we are formally closing the Special Counsel's Office. As well, I am resigning from the Department of Justice and returning to private life."
In reiterating the essence of the report, Mueller underscored that it was comprised of two parts, the first of which addressed efforts by Russia to influence the 2016 US presidential election and included the Trump campaign's response to these efforts.
In this matter, he said, there was “insufficient evidence to charge a larger conspiracy".
Russian intelligence officers launched "a concerted attack on our political system" involving "sophisticated cyber techniques", Mueller said. The perpetrators hacked into computers and networks used by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and released that information to the public through fake online identities and through WikiLeaks.
A dozen Russian military intelligence officers have so far been indicted on charges relating to the hacking of Democratic computer systems.
The report's second volume involved obstruction of justice matters regarding the president.
“When the subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation, or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable,” Mueller said.
The special counsel emphasised that his office had not ruled on whether US President Donald Trump had engaged in criminal conduct.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime we would have said so,” Mueller said.
“We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”
As explained in the report, “under longstanding [Justice] Department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office", Mueller said, adding: "That is unconstitutional.”
“Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that too is prohibited,” he clarified, noting that the special counsel’s office is part of the Justice Department and is therefore bound by its policies.
“Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider,” Mueller said.
There are other remedies available if the president is suspected of criminal conduct that lie outside the judiciary, he said.
“The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
The investigation of a sitting president is, however, permitted, “because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents [are] available”.
“That evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could be charged now,” Mueller explained.
The special counsel's investigation was also guided by the principal of fairness, he said. And since there could not be any judicial remedy for such a high-level accusation, it would have not been fair to make one against the president.
“It would be unfair to potentially accuse someone of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge.”
Ultimately, he said, “we concluded that we would not reach a determination, one way or the other, about whether the president committed a crime”.
Mueller's statement comes amid calls for him to testify before Congress about his findings, but Mueller said he could not say more beyond that which has already been made public.
“Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis, and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully and the report speaks for itself,” he said.
“The report is my testimony,” Mueller continued. “I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before the public.”
Allowing access to the underlying evidence gathered by Mueller’s team is being decided by authorities outside of the special counsel’s office, he noted.
“I do not believe it is appropriate to speak further about the investigation, or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress.”