Former special counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday asserted his right to investigate President Trump without being able to charge him, shooting down a line used by Republican lawmakers and Attorney General Bill Barr.
During Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) asked Mueller why there was “all of this investigation of President Trump” when, as per a standing Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion that prevents sitting presidents from being indicted, “you knew that you weren’t going to prosecute him.”
“Well, you don’t know where the investigation is going to lie,” Mueller replied. “And the OLC opinion itself says that you can continue the investigation.”
Mueller defends his investigation, even without ability to indict sitting President, under the OLC's own policy pic.twitter.com/1B95cfFIE3
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) July 24, 2019
The line of argument — that since Mueller was prohibited from charging Trump under Justice Department policy — became a prominent feature of the hearing, and of GOP spin on the Mueller report’s findings.
Before Sensenbrenner, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) let loose at Mueller on the same topic, accusing the former special counsel of going beyond his remit as a prosecutor by probing the President while being unable to indict him.
Before Wednesday’s hearing, Barr made a similar point to GOP lawmakers, saying that Mueller should have steered away from probing Trump’s conduct once he realized that it may have been chargeable and that he was unable to reach a traditional prosecutorial judgment.
“That was the time to pull up,” Barr said,
As Mueller noted, the OLC policy states that presidents can face criminal investigation in order to preserve evidence for impeachment or potential future charges.