No collusion, no obstruction, President Donald Trump insists. But former special counsel Robert Mueller contradicted Trump in one of his opening comments to Congress on Wednesday.
In the first exchange between Mueller and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Mueller agreed that his investigation did not exonerate the president of obstruction of justice as the president maintains.
Nadler, the Democrat of New York: “The president has repeatedly said that your report exonerated him. That is not what your report said, is that correct?”
Mueller: “Right, that is not what the report said.”
Nadler: “Did you actually totally exonerate the president?”
When asked to explain the report’s findings in plain terms, Mueller said: “The president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.”
Mueller has said he would not go beyond the 448-page report that he submitted to the Justice Department in March, but one goal of Democrats has been to have Mueller speak its findings out loud in his testimony before Congress.
Volume II of Mueller’s report sets out 10 instances of potential acts of obstruction of justice by Trump. They range from pressuring former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into then-national security adviser Michael Flynn — who lied about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak — to calling former Attorney General Jeff Sessions at home and asking him to reverse his recusal from the Russia investigation, the report says. In October, Trump met privately with Sessions and asked him to “take [a] look” at investigating Clinton, according to the report.
“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” the report states. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
But at the outset of the report, Mueller wrote that he would abide by the finding of a determination from the Office of Legal Counsel that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted. The team also decided that in the interest of fairness, it would not evaluate the president’s actions to determine whether the president had committed a crime.
The report also noted that a criminal investigation during the president’s term is permissible, and that a president does not have immunity after he leaves office.
Nadler in his exchange with Mueller referred to the Office of Legal Counsel opinion.
“Although department policy barred you from indicting the president for this conduct, you made clear that he is not exonerated,” Nadler said. “Any other person who acted this way would have been charged with a crime.”
In the United States, not even the president is above the law, Nadler said.