Mueller: Charging Trump With Obstruction ‘Was Not an Option’

Special counsel Robert Mueller reiterated Wednesday that charging President Donald Trump with obstruction of justice was not an option his office could consider under Justice Department guidelines, as he announced the closure of his office after concluding in late March a 22-month investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible obstruction of justice by Trump. 


Explaining his decision not to recommend formal charges against Trump despite uncovering nearly a dozen instances of possible obstruction of justice, Mueller cited a long-standing Justice Department legal opinion that says a sitting president can’t be indicted. 


“The special counsel’s office is part of the Department of Justice and, by regulation, it was bound by that department policy,” Mueller said in his first public remarks since his appointment as special counsel more than two years ago. “Charging the president with a crime, therefore, was not an option we could consider.”  

WATCH: Mueller on indicting a sitting president

The special counsel added that his decision not to charge Trump was informed in part by the Justice Department’s view that “the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” an apparent reference to the impeachment process by Congress. 


“And beyond department policy, we were guided by principles of fairness,” Mueller said.  “It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of an actual charge.” 


However, Mueller said that while his investigators had found “insufficient evidence” to charge Trump with a “broader conspiracy” during the election, he repeated what he wrote in his final report about the investigation that “if we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.” ​

WATCH: Mueller on returning to private life

Mueller concluded in the 448-page confidential report to Attorney General William Barr that he found insufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump presidential campaign and Moscow.  As to whether Trump criminally obstructed the investigation, the special counsel wrote that while he could not make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, he could not exonerate the president either. 

That left it to the attorney general, who, in a controversial decision made in consultation with senior Justice Department officials, determined that Trump could not be charged with obstruction based on the evidence uncovered by Mueller. Barr said he made the determination irrespective of the Justice Department policy against charging a sitting president, even though the policy had played a prominent role in Mueller’s decision not to bring charges.  


Barr’s decision outraged Democrats, who have accused the attorney general of misrepresenting Mueller’s conclusions and had been pressing for the special counsel to testify before Congress. While not ruling out a congressional appearance, Mueller said, to the disappointment of many Democrats, that he would not go beyond the report if he were to testify.  


“The report is my testimony,” he said.  “I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.”  


Mueller was appointed special counsel for the Russia investigation after Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey in May 2017. He told reporters that he was resigning from the Justice Department to return to private life.

Before his appointment, Mueller, a former FBI director, served as a partner at the WilmerHale law firm in Washington.   

In his statement, Mueller sought to play down reported friction with the attorney general over the manner in which the report was released to Congress and the public.  


Barr initially sent a four-page summary of the report’s principal conclusions to Congress, followed by a redacted version of the full report last month. The Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee later voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to release the full report along with the underlying evidence used to prepare it.  


Mueller said that while he asked the attorney general to release “certain portions of the report” to Congress early on, he did “not question the attorney general’s good faith” in deciding to make the entire report public at a later date.  

In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “Mr. Mueller explicitly said that he has nothing to add beyond the report, and therefore, does not plan to testify before Congress.” 


“The report was clear — there was no collusion, no conspiracy — and the Department of Justice confirmed there was no obstruction. Special counsel Mueller also stated that Attorney General Barr acted in good faith in his handling of the report,” Sanders said. “After two years, the special counsel is moving on with his life, and everyone else should do the same.”  


In a tweet after Mueller’s statement, Trump wrote: “Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in a our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you. ” 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., responded to Mueller’s remarks, saying, “It falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoings of President Trump — and we will do so.” 

In his remarks Wednesday, Mueller emphasized that “there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election” by Russia. He called it a “concerted attack on our political system.” 


“That allegation deserves the attention of every American,” he said. 

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