Special Counsel Robert Mueller spoke publicly Wednesday for the first time since he was appointed two years ago to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and any Trump campaign coordination with Russia. “I am speaking out today because our investigation is complete,” he began. “The attorney general has made the report on our investigation largely public. We are formally closing the special counsel’s office and as well I’m resigning from the Department of Justice to return to private life.”
Mueller’s remarks, which lasted 10 minutes, reiterated the key conclusions of the special counsel’s report, including he and his team could not determine whether President Trump committed a crime. “If we had confidence that the president did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” he said.
As he did in his report, Mueller explained that his office was bound by Justice Department regulations that prohibit a sitting president from indictment: “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller explained why he couldn’t charge President Trump with a crime.
Mueller reiterated the finding in his report, saying if his office “had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” https://t.co/q1crzE7trV pic.twitter.com/fQX3N4KH8f
— CNN (@CNN) May 29, 2019
Mueller added that it “would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge.” Between longstanding Justice Department policy and the belief that it would unfair to indict a president, Mueller said he and his team “concluded that we would not reach a determination one way or the other about whether the president committed a crime. That is the office’s final position and we will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the president.”
While Mueller spoke positively of Attorney General Barr in his remarks, his explanation for why he couldn’t indict the president contradicted Barr’s initial explanation of how Mueller reached his no-indictment decision. Barr told reporters during his April 18th press conference to pre-spin the special counsel’s findings that Mueller had “made it very clear several times” that his decision not to charge the president with crimes wasn’t due to the DOJ’s policy against indicting a president. But Mueller said precisely that in his remarks Wednesday: “The special counsel’s office is part of the Department of Justice and by regulation it was bound by that department policy.”
The White House confirmed that it was notified late on Tuesday that Mueller would be making a statement. Trump responded on Twitter shortly after Mueller spoke. “Nothing changes from the Mueller Report,” he wrote. “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you.”
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
Since Mueller submitted his findings to the Justice Department in April, pressure has intensified for him to speak publicly about the investigation. Attorney General William Barr and President Trump have both claimed the report exonerates the president of any wrongdoing, but the contents of the report tell a different story. Though Mueller concluded that the Trump campaign did not criminally conspire with Russia, he detailed how the campaign willingly accepted help from the foreign adversary. Mueller also outlined several instances in which the president appeared to have obstructed justice. Mueller chose not to indict Trump on obstruction charges either, instead placing the onus on Congress to act on his findings.
Following the report’s release, there were indications that Mueller and his office were not happy with the way the Barr characterized the special counsel’s findings. Later in April, it was revealed that Mueller wrote a letter to Barr disputing the “principal conclusions” of the report the attorney general released in the form of a four-page letter to Congress shortly after the report was submitted. Mueller wrote that Barr’s letter “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of the investigation. “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation,” he added. “This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”
Mueller also reportedly voiced his reservations to Barr over the phone. When Barr testified before Congress earlier this month, he said he called Mueller after receiving the special counsel’s letter. Barr said that Mueller told him he hadn’t “misrepresented” the report, and was only concerned with how the press had covered Barr’s initial conclusions. Barr also said that Mueller wanted him to release summaries of the report’s two volumes, but he objected. “It was my decision how and when to make it public. Not Bob Mueller’s,” Barr said.
Democrats have called on Mueller to testify publicly about several key pieces of the report and the aftermath of its submission. In early may, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said his committee had agreed to hear testimony from Mueller later in the month. A few weeks later, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) said Mueller “is going to testify.”
“The American people have a right to hear what the man who did the investigation has to say, and we now know we certainly can’t rely on the attorney general who misrepresented his conclusions,” Schiff said on ABC’s This Week.
But a few days after Schiff’s comments, CNN reported that some on Mueller’s team said the special counsel was hesitant to testify, fearing he would come across as political. Though Nadler declined to comment on the report of Mueller’s reticence, he had said in the past that he would subpoena the special counsel if he would not agree to testify voluntarily.
In his brief remarks, Mueller did not entirely rule out appearing before Congress but said he wanted the Special Counsel’s report to speak for itself. “We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony.” He said that his office was not involved in the conversations between the Justice Department and Congress over whether the underlying evidence used by the Special Counsel to write its report would be shared with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Mueller concluded his remarks — the first and perhaps final time the public will hear from him — by reiterating the seriousness of the assault on U.S. elections and democracy during the 2016 campaign. “There were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election,” Mueller said. “And that allegation deserves the attention of every American. Thank you, thank you for being here today.”
Read a full transcript of Mueller’s statement here.