Lawyer Robert Mueller, appointed as special counsel overseeing an investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, stated that charging President Donald Trump with a crime was “not an option” because of federal rules, but he used his first public remarks on his investigation to emphasise that he did not exonerate the president.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said during a prepared speech.
Mueller’s comments stand as a pointed rebuttal to Trump’s repeated claims that he was cleared and that the two-year inquiry was merely a “witch hunt”. They also marked a counter to criticism, including by Attorney General William Barr, that Mueller should have reached a determination on whether the president illegally tried to obstruct the probe by taking actions such as firing his FBI director, AP reported.
Marc Fisher writing in the Washington Post stated that, although Mueller did not say anything beyond what was written in his report published last month, “he delivered a nearly nine-minute soliloquy that seemed as powerful an invitation to impeachment of the president as anyone has delivered to date”.
Trump, who has repeatedly claimed that the report cleared him of obstruction of justice, tweeted a subdued yet still somewhat inaccurate reaction, shortly after he watch Mueller’s press conference on television.
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.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2019
Sarah Sanders, the White House Press Secretary: also tweeted:
White House Statement on Mueller statement today: pic.twitter.com/f5TXzf3Qpd
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) May 29, 2019
However, several Democrats stated Mueller’s words meant that Trump’s alleged involvement in the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, should see the matter referred to Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against the US President.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who is seeking his party’s nomination for president, became the latest Democrat to say Congress has “a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, whose committee would play a starring role in any impeachment effort, said during a press conference in New York City: “With respect to [the] impeachment question, at this point all options are on the table and nothing should be ruled out.”
In an earlier statement, Nadler, the top Democrat on the committee, vowed that Congress would “respond”.
“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. “No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law.”
"For more than a year, I have been saying it's time for Congress to act and begin impeachment proceedings. I think Robert Mueller made it clear as day for all of us."@BetoORourke on impeaching Trump. #Hardball pic.twitter.com/RgHb3f7lNT
— Hardball (@hardball) May 29, 2019
The call for impeachment was also taken up by numerous Democratic candidates running for the White House in 2020.
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg said Mueller’s statement is “as close to an impeachment referral as it gets.”
This is as close to an impeachment referral as it gets. Robert Mueller could not clear the president, nor could he charge him — so he has handed the matter to Congress, which alone can act to deliver due process and accountability.
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) May 29, 2019
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking after Mueller’s statement, tried to assure party colleagues that lawmakers in the House will continue looking into impeaching President Trump, while advocating against rashness, Fox News reported.
“We want to do what’s right and what gets results,” Pelosi said. “We’re legislating, we’re investigating and we’re litigating.”
She added, “Everybody wants justice, everybody wants the president to be held accountable.”Mueller’s first public statement was also his last. He said it was his final act as he is now resigning.