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Special counsel Robert Mueller: 'If we had had confidence that' President Trump 'clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so'

Key Points
  • "If we had had confidence that" President Donald Trump "clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," Robert Mueller says in breaking his silence about his 22-month probe of the 2016 election.
  • Mueller says that if he testified before Congress, as Democrats want, he won't elaborate beyond his final report.
  • Mueller also says Russia "launched a concerted attack on our political system."
VIDEO1:4001:40
Robert Mueller just officially ended the Trump-Russia investigation

Special counsel Robert Mueller broke his silence Wednesday on his nearly two-year investigation, saying that "if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so."

Mueller's statement to reporters at the Justice Department — his first ever in public since being appointed special counsel in 2017 — primarily restated the main findings of his investigation, which concluded three months ago after he submitted a 448-page report to Attorney General William Barr.

But Mueller pointedly talked about the lingering question of why his report did not recommend, one way or the other, that President Donald Trump should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice for allegedly interfering with his inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination with Russians by members of the Trump campaign.

"We did not make a determination as to whether" Trump "did commit a crime," said Mueller, who did not take any questions from journalists.

However, in his report to Barr, Mueller wrote that his probe did find "multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations."

In remarks lasting about nine minutes Wednesday, the special counsel cited a long-standing Justice Department policy barring the prosecution of a sitting president for a federal crime.

"That is unconstitutional," Mueller said. "Charging the president with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider."

VIDEO5:3405:34
Mueller: We did not determine whether Trump committed a crime

But he also noted, "if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so."

Trump reacted to Mueller's comments less than an hour later, tweeting: "The case is closed!

Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing by himself or members of his campaign, and has railed against Mueller's investigation, calling it a "witch hunt."

However, Mueller noted that there was another avenue for dealing with a sitting president who broke the law. He said that the internal Justice Department opinion barring the prosecution of a president also "says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing."

That "process," which Mueller did not name, is impeachment.

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller makes a statement on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election at the Justice Department in Washington, May 29, 2019.
Jim Bourg | Reuters

A growing number of Democrats in the House are calling for an impeachment inquiry because of the findings of Mueller's report, and Trump's stonewalling of their demand for testimony from people connected to him, and documents.

Mueller suggested that if he is forced to testify before Congress about his investigation — as Democrats are insisting — he "would not go beyond the findings in our report."

"The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond what is already public," Mueller said, referring to calls to appear before Congress.

"I am making that decision myself. Nobody has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter," said Mueller, who announced at the event that he was formally resigning and returning to private life.

His findings included his determination that there was a sustained, aggressive effort by Russian agents to use social media and computer hacking to help sway voters to Trump over Democratic contender Hillary Clinton.

"Russian intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system," Mueller said.

But he noted that he also had found that there was not sufficient evidence to charge people affiliated with the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russian agents to affect the election.

VIDEO0:5400:54
Special counsel Robert Mueller resigns from the Department of Justice, concludes investigation

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in a statement, said, "The Special Counsel has completed the investigation, closed his office, and has closed the case."

"Mr. Mueller explicitly said that he has nothing to add beyond the report, and therefore, does not plan to testify before Congress," Sanders said.

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

But Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., the only Republican in the legislative branch to publicly call for launching impeachment proceedings against Trump based on the Mueller report, said it's now up to Congress to decide the next move.

"The ball is in our court, Congress," he tweeted.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, the New York Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, has said that if Mueller does testify, the special counsel prefers to do so behind closed doors instead of in public.

Nadler and his Democratic colleagues also pushed Barr to release the unredacted report of the special counsel, who obtained convictions of former national security advisor Michael Flynn, Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, and Michael Cohen, the president's former personal lawyer.

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Mueller press conference on Trump investigation