Mueller to Congress: I Did My Job, Now Do Yours
Throughout the entire Special Counsel process, every move and absence of word by Robert S. Mueller has been methodical and, at least from all outward appearances, professionally ethical at the highest level. Mueller’s surprise announcement from the seventh-floor podium of the U.S. Department of Justice did not deviate from what we have come to expect of him.
To be clear, we knew from the beginning, prior to the formation of the Special Counsel’s office, of the existence of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo that outlines the DOJ’s inability to indict a sitting president. We were also aware of the Constitutional powers of Congress, which gives them the right and responsibility to pursue charges of high crimes against a president and/or determine if his or her behavior violates public trust to an extent worthy of impeachment – a process not reliant on the presence of underlying crimes.
In effect, Mueller did exactly what he was tasked to do, with his hands preemptively tied toward indictments, and with the report, provided his findings within the limited scope of his ordered investigation. As Mueller stated Wednesday, he and his team “chose those words very carefully,” and anyone familiar with legal language understands that both the admission and omission of words are intentional.
We are providing a full transcript of Mueller’s speech, with italics where he intentionally emphasized words, and with analysis notations in bold italics.
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Mueller transcript: May 29, 2019
Thank you for being here. Two years ago, the acting Attorney General asked me to serve as Special Counsel and he created the Special Counsel’s Office. The appointment order directed the office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
This included investigating any links or coordination between the Russian government and any individuals associated with the Trump campaign.
Now, I have not spoken publicly during our investigation. I am speaking out today because our investigation is complete.
Note: The completion of the Special Counsel’s Office investigation does not necessarily indicate the completion of Southern District of New York investigations that have been referred by the Special Counsel. Those cases may still produce further indictments.
The Attorney General has made the report on our investigation largely public. We are formally closing the Special Counsel’s Office, as well, I’m resigning from the Department of Justice to return to private life.
I’ll make a few remarks about the results of our work, but beyond these few remarks it is important that the Office’s written work speak for itself. Let me begin where the appointment order begins, and that is interference in the 2016 presidential election.
As alleged by the Grand Jury in an indictment, Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system. The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. 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. And at the same time, as the Grand Jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation, where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to influence an election.
These indictments contain allegations and we are not commenting on the guilt or the innocence of any specific defendant. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. The indictments allege and the other activities in our report describe efforts to interfere in our political system. They needed to be investigated and understood and that is among the reasons why the Department of Justice established our office.
That is also a reason we investigated efforts to obstruct the investigation. The matters we investigated were of paramount importance. It was critical for us to obtain full and accurate information from every person we questioned. When a subject of investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.
Let me say a word about the report. The report has two parts addressing the two main issues we were asked to investigate. The first volume of the report details numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election. This volume includes a discussion of the Trump campaign’s response to this activity as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.
Note: If obstruction, as is outlined in Volume II, occurred, which may have struck at “the core of efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable,” determination of guilt or innocence in the conspiracy investigation may have been impossible to conclude. In other words, if the subject of the investigation obstructed the investigation process, collection of evidence sufficient to charge for crimes could have been hampered.
And in the second volume, the report describes the results and analysis of our obstruction of justice investigation involving the president. The order appointing the Special Counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation. We conducted that investigation and we kept the office of the acting Attorney General apprised of the progress of our work.
And 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. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime. The introduction to Volume II of our report explains that decision.
It explains that under long standing 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. The department’s written opinion explaining the policy makes several important points that further informed our handling of the obstruction investigation. Those points are summarized in our report and I will describe two of them for you.
First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents are available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could be charged now. And second, the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.
Note: The above four paragraphs provide clarity on four important points. 1. Mueller and team were never granted the authority or expected to issue indictments against the president, regardless of evidence alleging guilt. 2. Mueller has consistently, in writing and now verbally on national television, refused to exonerate the president of obstruction of justice. 3. Mueller specifically refers to the Constitutional requirement that “a process other than the justice system” be used to “formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.” This statement is a clear charge to Congress to perform oversight duties and move forward as they deem appropriate given the information he has provided in writing. 4. Evidence preserved by way of this investigation could be used to charge Trump once out of office and if within the statute of limitations – this is an important piece of information to consider as we approach the next election.
And beyond department policy, we were guided by principles of fairness. It would be unfair to potentially accuse anybody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge. So, that was justice department policy, those were the principles under which we operated and from them we concluded that we would not reach a determination, one way or the other, about whether the president committed a crime.
That is the office’s final position and we will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the president. We conducted an independent criminal investigation and reported the results to the Attorney General, as required by department regulations. The Attorney General then concluded that it was appropriate to provide our report to Congress and to the American people.
At one point in time, I requested that certain portions of the report be released. The Attorney General preferred to make the entire report public all at once and we appreciate that the Attorney General made the report largely public and I’ll certainly not question the Attorney General’s good faith in that decision.
Now, I hope and expect this be the only time I will speak to you in this manner. I am making that decision myself. No one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter. There has been a discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and reasons for the decisions we made.
Note: Mueller is reiterating that what is contained in the report, each carefully selected word, should act as not only Congressional guidance but would be considered the material he would present under oath as testimony. This is not only a direction to all interested parties to thoroughly read the report, but to take those findings with the utmost seriousness.
We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress. In addition, access to our underlying work product is being decided in a process that does not involve our office.
Note: Mueller is telling the public in plain speak that if the underlying “work product” is withheld from Congress, it is withheld by forces outside his control. This is a warning shot.
So, beyond what I have said here today, and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress, and it is for that reason that I will not be taking questions today as well.
Now, before I step away, I want to thank the attorneys, the FBI agents, the analysts, the professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner. These individuals who spent nearly two years with the Special Counsel’s Office were of the highest integrity.
And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election and that allegation deserves the attention of every American.
Note: Mueller is clear in his determination of one thing and one thing only, that Russia did actively and intentionally interfere in our election to the benefit of Donald Trump. He reiterates that “every American” should pay attention to that fact. This point cannot be understated – a foreign adversary attacked our free election process and subsequently, our democracy. In just about any other time and place in our American story, that would be considered an act of war. The president’s friendly alignment with the power that attacked our democracy is blatant and should be examined for what it is.
Thank you, thank you for being here today.
The questions that Mueller throws to Congress are these: Is Donald J. Trump a traitor to his country? And what are we going to do to prevent Russia from interfering again?
Now, it is time for Congress, with the interest of the people above party, to get to the business of answering those questions posthaste.