Robert Mueller’s Statement: If President Trump Were Just “Mr. Trump”

On May 29, Special Counsel Robert Mueller gave his first public statement regarding the findings of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Now that Robert Mueller himself has spoken to the public about the investigation’s findings, little can be left to speculation as to what Mueller and his team discovered, or what they concluded.

Mueller started his ten-minute address with the reminder about why he was appointed: “The Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system…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.”

Mueller cited the difficulty that the Justice Department had at times with obtaining information from those who were questioned during the investigation.

“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 the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Robert Mueller stopped short of saying explicitly that Donald Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice. 

In the case of Mueller’s report on the investigation, which was released on April 18, 2019, Attorney General William Barr chose to interpret the findings as indicating that there was no basis for charging Trump with obstruction of justice. 

Mueller did not, however, state that his team had found no basis for charging  Trump. What Mueller said was that they “did not make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.” 

Some Trump supporters pounced on “did not make a determination” as a declaration of Trump’s innocence. 

But in his address, Robert Mueller said, “The order appointing me Special Counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation. … 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.”

Mueller went on to explain why he didn’t go further. It was not because the Justice Department had found no evidence of wrongdoing.

“Under longstanding 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 one legal expert, Jessica Levinson, law professor at Loyola Law school said, “If we were talking about Mr. Trump, not President Trump, we’d be talking about an indictment for obstruction of justice.”

Robert Mueller is leaving it up to Congress to enforce the obstruction of justice statute regarding Trump and his efforts to impede the Russia investigation. 

WATCH: Robert Mueller makes 1st public statement on Russia probe | 
PBS NewsHour [2019-05-29]

Trump reacts to Mueller’s Russia probe statement in angry tirade | 
Fox News [2019-05-30]

Is Donald Trump Above Indictment?

If Special Counsel Robert Mueller finds evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Donald Trump, can Trump be indicted? His supporters, including Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, emphatically say, “No.” Many of Trump’s opponents say a confident “Yes.” The more accurate answer to whether Trump could be indicted lies somewhere in between.

Since 1973, according to Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor, “The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has maintained a policy that a sitting president may not be prosecuted or indicted.”

But this does not mean that the president is above the law. Most people are aware that when a president is found guilty of serious wrongdoing or commits a breach of public trust, the Constitutional remedy would be impeachment by the House of Representatives. Impeachment is akin to indictment, and would be the first step in the process of removal from office, which could then lead to criminal prosecution. Though impeachment is akin to indictment, we’ve learned from the Clinton years that impeachment does not necessarily mean removal from office.

Following impeachment by the House, (and still prior to removal from office), the next step would be a conviction by the Senate. Here’s what the U.S. Constitution says about impeachment:

“Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.” (U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 3, Clause 7)

One could interpret the above clause this way: Impeachment does not go beyond removal from office and disqualification from holding any future public office. But if the president is impeached (by the House), convicted (by the Senate), and removed from the office of the Presidency, he or she could then be indicted, stand trial, and receive punishment in a regular court of law.

During the Clinton administration, the policy that a sitting president could not be indicted or prosecuted was reaffirmed, with this statement: “The policy seeks to insulate the nation’s chief executive from prosecutorial pressures that would ‘impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.’”

It’s true that we would not want a president, perhaps especially Donald Trump, to be distracted by the pressures of an indictment or a prosecution. This could place Americans at peril and jeopardize many aspects of our government’s workings.

On the other hand, if a president were found guilty of wrongdoing or of breaching public trust, would we really want that president to continue his or her duties as our leader? This answer is undoubtedly not clear-cut; for those who would support Donald Trump’s indictment, the answer is a simple “No.” But for those who support Trump, even an indictment and subsequent prosecution would likely not be enough to deter their backing.

Rudy Giuliani says Mueller won’t indict Trump | Fox Business [2018-05-16]

Senator: Giuliani is wrong. Trump can be indicted. | CNN [2018-05-16]