Fri, May 31, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Russia investigation didn’t exonerate US president: Mueller

AFP, WASHINGTON

US Special Counsel Robert Mueller makes a statement on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election at the US Department of Justice in Washington on Wednesday.

Photo: Reuters

US Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday said that his two-year Russia investigation had not exonerated US President Donald Trump, but that he had lacked the power to charge a sitting president — passing the baton to US Congress where a growing chorus is clamoring for impeachment.

Making his first public statement on the high-stakes probe into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, Mueller said longstanding US Department of Justice guidelines prevented him from charging Trump, despite at least 10 possible acts of criminal obstruction by the president.

However, not indicting Trump was not equivalent to clearing him, Mueller said, suggesting US Congress has both the constitutional powers and the responsibility to pursue the case.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” he said.

Mueller’s oblique allegation of serious wrongdoing sparked a new firestorm in Washington, with Trump again claiming vindication and a rising number of Democrats demanding to open impeachment proceedings.

“Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent,” the president tweeted minutes after Mueller finished speaking. “The case is closed! Thank you.”

However, US Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, was one of half a dozen White House hopefuls who seized upon Mueller’s remarks to urge Congress to impeach Trump.

“Mueller leaves no doubt,” she tweeted. “The Constitution leaves it up to Congress to act — and that’s impeachment.”

The taciturn Mueller took to the podium to clarify his original conclusions more than two months after a summary of his report was first released.

“Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system,” forming the basis for the investigation, the 74-year-old said.

Mueller’s report detailed multiple contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, including efforts to take advantage of Moscow’s claimed possession of dirt on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, but in the end Mueller said: “There was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy” of collusion.

As for the obstruction side of the investigation, Mueller explained that from the outset, charging Trump with any federal crime “was not an option that we could consider.”

According to department policy, he said, “a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional.”

Mueller made clear, though, that he thought it was up to Congress to pursue the case.

“The constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” Mueller said.

Mueller’s statement piled heavy pressure on US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to seriously consider launching an impeachment effort against Trump.

Pelosi has fended off the idea, which would be fraught with political risk for the party 18 months ahead of presidential elections.

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