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Charging Trump ‘was not an option’, says Mueller in first public remarks

world Updated: May 29, 2019 22:43 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Special Counsel Robert Mueller
Special Counsel Robert Mueller (AFP file photo)

In first public remarks in two years of leading the Russia meddling probe, Special Counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday government policy and principles prevented him from even considering criminally charging President Donald Trump, and declined to clear him of a crime.

“Charging the president with the crime was not an option that we could consider,” the special counsel said in brief remarks lasting about 10 minutes from the justice department. “Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime.” He was referring to a justice department policy that bars a sitting president from being charged criminally.

Summarizing his 448-page report essentially, the special counsel said his team found “insufficient evidence” to charge President Trump or any one in his campaign team of conspiring with the Russian meddling, which he stated clearly took place, but did not reach the same determination on the questions of whether or not the president tried to obstruct justice.

“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.”

Mueller took no questions and said to reporters that his probe is over, he is “formally closing the special counsel’s office and as well I am resigning from the Department of Justice to return to private life … this will be the only time I will speak to you in this manner”.

He added, significantly, in reference to talk about asking him to testify in congress as has been sought by Democratic lawmakers that any testimony he gives will not go beyond the 448-page report he submitted earlier.

“We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself, and the report is my testimony,” Mueller said.

Mueller may be returning to private life and moving on, his parting statement, which was being parsed for unsaid indications and pointer by commentators and analysts, had enough to keep Trump’s critics going. Democratic Senator Cory Booker, who is running for the party’s presidential nomination, said Mueller’s statement made it clear that congress “has a legal and moral obligation to start impeachment proceedings against the president.

Mueller said n his remark that while government policy prevented a sitting president from being criminally charged, “the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing”. This was being taken to mean he was referring, without saying so to the impeachment process.

President Trump, who probably watched the remarks that were aired live by most news channels, responded shortly after with a tweet: “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 spokesperson Sarah Sanders followed up with a statement, saying, “After two years, the Special Counsel is moving on with his life, and everyone else should do the same.”

First Published: May 29, 2019 22:43 IST

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