A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by Liz Marlantes.

What Robert Mueller said about Trump, and didn't say

Why We Wrote This

Obstruction of justice? Robert Mueller says that the U.S. Justice Department cannot legally charge any sitting president for a crime. 

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Special counsel Robert Mueller speaks at the Department of Justice May 29 in Washington about the Russia investigation.

Dear Reader:

Read the report.

That’s essentially what Robert Mueller said in his press conference today. The special counsel, who announced he was officially resigning, read a 10-minute statement in which he made clear that he did not want to testify before Congress – and that if he is called to do so, his testimony would not “go beyond” his written report.

Mr. Mueller did take the opportunity to reiterate some of his report’s key findings:

  • That Russia, as alleged in a grand jury indictment, made “multiple, systemic efforts” to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election – a “concerted attack on our political system,” he said, that “deserves the attention of every American.”
  • That his team found “insufficient evidence” to charge the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia to influence the election.
  • And that, when it came to obstruction of justice, his team “did not make a determination,” being bound by Justice Department guidelines that prevent a sitting president from being charged with a crime. “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime,” he said, “we would have said so.”

Perhaps most notably, Mr. Mueller stated, “The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.” That seems certain to further ramp up calls on the left for impeachment.

Still, all of this – as Mr. Mueller noted – was in the original report.

 And there’s the rub. Because the Mueller report, which was supposed to provide clarity on a topic of vital national interest, has instead only seemed to muddy the waters. Some people read it as clear vindication for President Donald Trump. Others see it as a damning portrayal that makes a rock-solid case for impeachment.

“It seems to me that Mueller’s office thinks that their report is clearer than we do,” NBC’s Julia Ainsley said, somewhat exasperatedly, on air today.

 “It’s like the white and gold dress,” a media colleague remarked to me over the weekend – referring to that viral image that sparked furious online debates a few years back.

 Today, all Mr. Mueller made clear is that when it comes to interpreting what he wrote – is it white and gold? Or blue and black? – he’s not going to help us out.

 Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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