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What Robert Mueller Really Said

The special counsel's statement was specifically designed to counter Republican talking points and can be refined to four main points.

You have to wonder if some people holding forth on Robert Mueller’s public statement yesterday actually listened to what the special counsel said. I’ve seen people once again claim that Mueller exonerated the president, that he agreed with Attorney General Barr that there was no obstruction and that Mueller muddied the issue. None of these is true. issue. None of these is true.

Mueller’s statement seemed specifically designed to counter the spin of the Trump Administration while pointing out they Russia systematically attacked the 2016 election, a fact that Mueller obviously believes is getting lost in the debate over whether Donald Trump obstructed justice. The special counsel also takes time to refute many of the allegations made against the investigation.

There are four main takeaways from Mueller’s statement:

  1. Russia launched systematic cyber attacks on the 2016 election.
  2. There was insufficient evidence to charge Americans with conspiring with Russia.
  3. There was evidence that Trump obstructed justice.
  4. DOJ policy prevented an indictment of Trump from being considered.

I am going to include selected portions of the statement in the following article. As always, I encourage everyone to go straight to the source. Mueller’s statement is less than 10 minutes long and is available for viewing on YouTube. You can also read the transcript here. I recommend reading Mueller’s full report as well.

Russian intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system. The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber-techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks. The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate. And at the same time as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to influence an election.

Mueller stresses that Russian interference with the election went far beyond buying social media ads. They included computer hacking and dissemination of stolen data. As discussed in other indictments and the full version of the Mueller report, Russian activities also included cyber attacks on state and local election infrastructure such as voter databases and companies that build and write software for voting machines. The Russian attacks go far beyond any known previous attempts to interfere in our elections. They are also very different from Barack Obama’s support for an Israeli group that opposed Benjamin Netanyahu in the 2015 Israeli elections.

Mueller’s statement contradicts claims that there was no underlying crime and that the investigation was a waste of time. The crime was a concerted attack on a foundation of the American Republic.

That is also a reason we investigated efforts to obstruct the investigation. The matters we investigated were of paramount importance. It was critical for us to obtain full and accurate information from every person we questioned. When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.

The order appointing me special counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation.

Mueller here provides the justification for the obstruction investigation. Even if there were no crime, obstruction could still take place because investigators were legally trying to determine whether a crime had taken place or not. In this case, crimes did take place and others were indicted and convicted even if President Trump was not.

The document appointing Robert Mueller authorizes him to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” which would include Trump himself, and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” as well as other matters within the jurisdiction of the special counsel law, which specifically includes “perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses.” Rosenstein’s instructions to Mueller are available online here.

This volume includes a discussion of the Trump campaign’s response to this activity as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.

Mueller does not say that there was “no collusion.” He says that evidence to prosecute collusion was “insufficient.” This implies that evidence of collusion did exist.

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.

This is not, as many Republicans claim, a statement that there was no obstruction. This is the opposite. Mueller is saying that if the president was innocent he would say so, but there is evidence against him so he cannot be exonerated.

It [the full report] 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.

A 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. The department’s written opinion explaining the policy makes several important points that further informed our handling of the obstruction investigation. Those points are summarized in our report and I will describe two of them for you.

Mueller explains here that he could not indict the president due to Justice Department policy even though he found evidence that crimes were committed. Essentially, the Justice Department view is that prosecuting the president is illegal under the Constitution. My own opinion is that the framers of the Constitution, who had just fought a revolution to free themselves of rule by a king, did not intend to place the president above the law.

Regardless, Mueller next explains why he investigated obstruction if an indictment of the president was “not an option” from the beginning.

First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could be charged now.

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

First, the investigation was to preserve evidence for possible prosecution of co-conspirators. Second, the evidence could be used in an impeachment trial.

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

So that was Justice Department policy. Those were the principles under which we operated.

Mueller then reiterates that his decision was guided by DOJ policy. He also states that it would be unfair to accuse the president of a crime when he would not have a trial that could be used to clear his name.

At one point in time, I requested that certain portions of the report be released and the attorney general preferred to make — 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.

This is a reference to the leaked letter in which Mueller took Attorney General Barr to task for mischaracterizing the special counsel report in his public summary. Mueller requested that certain portions of the report be made public. Barr elected to release a redacted version of the report. Mueller seems satisfied with this.

Now, I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner. I am making that decision myself. No one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter.

Mueller does not intend to make further public statements. He says that this is his own choice and not a decision by the Justice Department or President Trump.

There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.

While Mueller does not rule out congressional testimony, he says that he will not provide further public information. As I advised above, if you want to know more, read his report.

These individuals who spent nearly two years with the special counsel’s office were of the highest integrity.

This counters claims by President Trump and other Republicans that the investigators were corrupt.

And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple systemic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.

Mueller closes by again stressing the fact that the United States was the subject of a campaign of cyber attacks in 2016. If steps are not taken to defend against similar attacks, it is likely to happen again next year. At some point, aggressors are likely to penetrate election defenses and find the ability to manipulate vote totals. As Mueller said, this should be alarming to every American, even if you happen to like the outcome of the last election.

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