Two years and 12 days ago, Robert Mueller was appointed Special Counsel. On 22 March of this year, Mueller concluded his investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and submitted his 448-page report to Attorney General William Barr. Since then, Barr, President Trump, and the Republican Party have publicly lied about the report, even after a redacted version was released. Today at 11am, Mueller broke his silence and added another page to history.
Three weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declared "case closed" when it comes to Mueller's investigation. In his 9-minute statement today at the Justice Department, Mueller showcased the folly in McConnell's words by publicly outlining the findings of his report and putting the ball in Congress' court.
In a nutshell, Mueller made very clear that Russia's interference in US democracy was not a "hoax," explained how his report does not exonerate Trump, detailed how the Office of Legal Counsel's (OLC) memo claiming a sitting president cannot be indicted is the reason he didn't charge Trump, and essentially green-lit impeachment proceedings by telling Congress it's their job to hold the President accountable. You have to dissect his remarks to realize what’s going to happen next.
Mueller began his statement by announcing his resignation from the Justice Department and the closure of the Special Counsel's Office. He then touched on Russia's multifaceted espionage and propaganda campaign in 2016, which we can theorize was intended to damage Hillary Clinton's candidacy and aid candidate Trump.
Mueller touched on the fact he did not charge a criminal conspiracy between the Russian government and the Trump campaign but when it comes to obstruction of justice, that's a different story. Specifically, he uttered a quote that reporters will be able to play back any time Trump falsely claims he has been "totally exonerated”: "And as set forth in the report after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime."
The most important part of Mueller's statement came when he detailed why he didn't indict Trump. Contrary to Barr's initial claims that the OLC memo did not factor into Mueller's decision, Mueller outlines how it was the deciding factor: "It explains that under long-standing department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that too is prohibited. The special counsel’s office is part of the Department of Justice and by regulation it was bound by that Department policy. Charging the president with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider."
As Mueller's report states, "Congress can permissibly criminalize certain obstructive conduct by the President." In today's statement, Mueller went even further in his effort to leave the prosecutorial determination Congress: “The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing."
That process is called impeachment.
As expected, President Trump tried to spin this news. It's important to note that Mueller previously sent a letter to Barr accusing him of misrepresenting the details of his report. Today, Mueller publicly demonstrated the extent to which Trump and Barr have misled the people and that the Russia investigation was far from a treasonous coup attempt.
Almost everything Mueller said today was outlined in his 448-page report, but it will have more of an impact, given the effectiveness of a 9-minute clip versus a 448-page report. When it comes to further testimony, although Mueller appeared unwilling to appear before Congress, he likely won't defy a subpoena.
After Mueller's statement, presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) doubled down on their calls for impeachment. Other 2020 contenders like Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Pete Buttigieg (D-IN) also called for impeachment. Justin Amash (R-MI-3), who was the first and only Republican member of Congress to call for impeachment, tweeted: "The ball is in our court, Congress."
The 10 key areas of obstruction outlined in Mueller's report create grounds for impeachment, according to numerous legal experts. Over 800 former federal prosecutors signed a letter stating that Trump would be indicted if it weren't for the OLC's memo.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has a choice to make. Pelosi's methodical approach to investigating Trump has garnered favorable court rulings, but it's time for a shift in strategy. Starting an impeachment inquiry would also empower the House Judiciary Committee with grand jury powers and highlight Trump's corruption.
One of the last lines in Mueller's report was “[n]o [person] in this country is so high that he is above the law.”
We will soon find out if that is true.
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