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Mueller leaves door open for impeachment proceedings

Updated May 29, 2019 - 6:50 pm

WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday his report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election “speaks for itself” but left the door open for the Democratic-controlled House to hold hearings to impeach President Donald Trump.

Speaking in a reedy voice and without taking questions during a brief statement delivered at the Department of Justice, Mueller stressed that his investigation proved Russia tried to interfere with the 2016 election — the subject of the first part of his report.

Mueller then turned to the issue of obstruction, saying that under Department of Justice rules, charging a sitting president “was not an option we could consider.” He added, however, that the Constitution “explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president.”

But Mueller also said the report did not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”

Mueller, who said he is closing his office and resigning from the Justice Department, said he did not believe it would be “appropriate” for him to testify before Congress and added that he would not discuss anything not included in the report if compelled to do so.

Trump responded on Twitter shortly after Mueller concluded his remarks, saying, “Nothing changes from the Mueller report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you.”

Changing focus

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale issued a statement that pivoted to a frequent Trump refrain: “Now it’s time to turn to the origins of the Russia hoax and get to the bottom of why the Trump campaign was spied on by the Obama-era DOJ and FBI,” he wrote.

Trump critics were quick to seize the moment as pressure mounted for Democrats on the fence to support impeachment or perhaps steps in that direction.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., tweeted, “This administration had continued to stonewall Congress’s oversight. Beginning impeachment proceedings is the only path forward.” Last month the Democratic presidential hopeful cautioned that Congress should “pursue the facts” before starting impeachment proceedings.

Two major candidates, Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have previously supported impeachment, while other presidential hopefuls, including former Vice President Joe Biden, have been more careful, calling for an investigation instead.

Although Mueller said it wasn’t appropriate for him to testify, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., replied with a statement that concluded, “Congress must hold Donald Trump fully accountable, and bringing Special Counsel Mueller in to testify is an important step in that direction.”

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., avoided even using the word “impeachment” Wednesday.

During a media event at Kiel Ranch Historic Park in North Las Vegas, he commended Mueller for his work but said Congress needs more information so it can serve as “a check and balance on the executive branch.”

“We need to have the full unredacted report, and we need to be able to receive the special counsel’s testimony in order for Congress to do its duty,” he said.

Horsford said that he has read the entire report and that “it’s very clear that this White House … there’s clear evidence that obstruction of justice occurred. And Congress has a responsibility to protect our democracy and the fundamentals of our institutions.”

Heidi Hess of the progressive group CREDO Action, argued, “Robert Mueller is practically begging Congress to move forward with impeachment proceedings. In a room full of reporters, he explicitly conceded that there wasn’t enough evidence to exonerate Donald Trump, a sitting president, on the possible crime of obstruction of justice.”

Move on

But White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders echoed Trump in saying the investigation was over.

“The special counsel has completed the investigation, closed his office and has closed the case,” she said in a statement. “Mr. Mueller explicitly said that he has nothing to add beyond the report, and therefore, does not plan to testify before Congress. The report was clear — there was no collusion, no conspiracy — and the Department of Justice confirmed there was no obstruction. Special counsel Mueller also stated that Attorney General Barr acted in good faith in his handling of the report. After two years, the special counsel is moving on with his life, and everyone else should do the same.”

The White House confirmed that the Department of Justice notified Tuesday night that Mueller was likely to make a statement Wednesday at the Justice Department’s headquarters building. Mueller took the time to thank the many staffers who worked on the investigation.

“I thought he looked tired. I thought he looked like a guy who had pretty much had enough,” noted Mark Corallo, a onetime spokesman in President George W. Bush’s Department of Justice who worked briefly with Trump’s defense team.

Corallo said he did not believe that Mueller was signaling that he “was urging anybody to do anything.” He added: “It’s always been apparent to anybody who’s ever read the Constitution that it is well within the House’s purview to institute an impeachment hearing if they believe the president has committed acts that were unworthy of office.”

Mueller’s statement is sure to put more pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership to institute impeachment hearings despite Pelosi’s efforts to restrain the more progressive elements of her caucus.

Until now, the conventional wisdom was that Democrats have more to lose in 2020 if they impeach Trump: a futile exercise, moderates have maintained, because the GOP-controlled Senate would not be expected to meet the 67-vote threshold needed to convict and remove an impeached president.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Henry Brean and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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