On Wednesday, Robert Mueller delivered his first public statement on the probe that bears his name. It was quite something.
Earlier this month, reports suggested the special counsel “balked” at testifying publicly for fear of coming across as “political”, a ridiculous state of affairs considering he’s a lifelong Republican.
To the extent Mueller was wary of being seen as a tool of the Democrats, or as a nefarious “deep state” operator, it meant Trump had succeeded in silencing the most critical voice of them all when it comes to the most important investigation in modern political history.
On Wednesday, in remarks delivered at the Justice Department, Mueller reiterated, in the most straightforward manner possible, the conclusions of the report. He began by formally resigning.
He seemed intent on emphasizing the severity and systematic nature of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the US election. He also underscored the fact that Moscow did so with the intention of damaging the Clinton campaign.
It what will almost surely be the most widely debated part of Mueller’s statement, the special counsel made it clear that under DoJ regulations, charging Trump with obstruction “was not an option.” Here is a clip that will be parsed relentlessly and discussed ad nauseam:
Although Mueller’s remarks speak for themselves, America would be remiss not to note that the special counsel clearly wanted the public to understand that the “No Obstruction” catchphrase is not consistent with the investigation’s conclusions. “Obstruction”, Mueller said, “strikes at the core of the ability to get at the truth.” He repeated (almost verbatim) a key line from the report:
If we 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.
By many accounts, every intonation and turn of phrase is intentional when Mueller speaks. If there’s any truth to that, Mueller’s emphasis on the words “not” and “could” when he said his office was constrained by regulations in their ability to indict Trump, is key. Nothing in Mueller’s description of the obstruction probe suggests the special counsel’s office agrees with attorney general William Barr about Trump’s innocence with regard to obstruction.
It would not, Mueller said, be fair “to accuse someone of a crime when it cannot be tried in court”. At the risk of reading too much into that, it certainly sounds like the controlling factor in not indicting Trump wasn’t a lack of evidence, but rather the inability to prosecute him.
Mueller spoke in perfunctory terms about Barr, delivering an obligatory nod to the assumption of “good faith”. The two men are (or at least were) friends, by Barr’s own account. Three days after the attorney general released his infamous four-page summary of the report, Mueller sent Barr an alarmed letter. “The summary the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions”, Mueller wrote. “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.”
Prior to the special counsel’s remarks, the White House said the administration was notified on Tuesday of Mueller’s plans. They did not object.
Mueller concluded by thanking the agents and attorneys who worked on the investigation and by saying that any testimony he would theoretically give would not deviate from the conclusions delivered over 450 pages.
“The report is my testimony”, Mueller said.
Asked if he would comply with congressional subpoenas, Mueller let the reporter finish, despite having made it clear there would be no Q&A.
“No questions”, he said, raising his hand.
Then he turned and walked away.
Read Mueller’s Full Statement