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Mueller breaks silence to say report doesn’t clear Trump

Special counsel Robert Mueller broke his silence Wednesday about his office’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In a nine-minute statement, he reiterated that Justice Department policy prohibits charging a sitting president with a crime, and that his report did not clear President Trump of committing a crime. Judy Woodruff reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The man who led the Russia investigation has finally spoken in public.

    Special counsel Robert Mueller appeared before cameras today at a nine-minute news conference. He summed up his findings on Russian election interference and the Trump campaign and on the president and obstruction of justice.

  • Robert Mueller:

    If we had had confidence that the president clearly didn't commit a crime, we would have said so. We didn't, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Special counsel Robert Mueller broke his silence today to emphasize that his report didn't clear President Trump of trying to obstruct the investigation.

    He pointed out that Justice Department guidelines barred him from prosecuting the president.

  • Robert Mueller:

    Under longstanding department policy, a present president can not be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On Russian interference in U.S. elections, Mueller warned, as he did in his 448-page report, of ongoing efforts by Moscow. But he also said today he was unable to prove a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russians to influence the 2016 election.

  • Robert Mueller:

    There was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The special counsel's statement comes amid a growing battle between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats, who want Mueller and administration officials to testify on the investigation and other matters.

    Today, Mueller warned he wouldn't say more than what is in his report.

  • Robert Mueller:

    The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public.

    So, beyond what I have said here today and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mueller also acknowledged he had disagreed with some of Attorney General William Barr's decisions in the release of the report.

  • Robert Mueller:

    At one point in time, I requested that certain portions of the report be released.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Instead, Barr initially released a four-page letter, saying there was no finding of conspiracy with the Russians, and not enough evidence to pursue obstruction.

  • William Barr:

    The evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed and obstruction of justice offense.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In a subsequent letter, Mueller privately complained to Barr that Barr's letter didn't adequately represent his findings.

  • Robert Mueller:

    The attorney general preferred to make that — preferred to make the entire report public all at once. And we appreciate that the attorney general made the report largely public. And I certainly do not question the attorney general's good faith in that decision.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Referring again to Justice Department policy, Mueller said it is now up to Congress to pursue any legal charges against President Trump.

  • Robert Mueller:

    The opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.

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

  • Donald Trump:

    It was a complete and total exoneration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump has repeatedly claimed that the Mueller report cleared him of any wrongdoing.

    After Mueller's appearance today, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter — quote — "Nothing changes from the Mueller report. There was insufficient evidence and, therefore, in our country, a person is innocent. The case is closed."

    White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders echoed that claim.

  • Question:

    Why is it wrong for Congress to look into this?

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders:

    If Bob Mueller had determined that there was a crime, he would have had a moral obligation to report it, to put that into his report. He didn't. We consider this case closed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But from Democrats, a very different view. Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Mueller clearly didn't exonerate President Trump on obstruction, and he vowed to continue his committee's investigation.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.:

    With respect to impeachment question at this point, all options are on the table and nothing should be ruled out. Trump is lying when he says no collusion, no obstruction, and that he was exonerated. If Mueller wanted to exonerate the president from having committed a crime, he would have said so.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also said that Democrats will continue to investigate, but she again stopped short of calling for impeachment.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Everybody wants justice. Everybody wants the president to be held accountable in the most serious way. And everybody believes — I mean, I'm talking on the Democratic side — that no one is above the law, especially the president of the United States.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For his part, Mueller said today he is resigning as special counsel and returning to private life.

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