Robert Mueller’s first on-camera remarks since his appointment to special counsel were in keeping with the manner with which he carried out his nearly two-year investigation.
There were no rhetorical flashes, no deeper reflection of what he believed, beyond the facts and tasks at hands. Almost every statement he made Wednesday from a Justice Department lectern could be traced to his comprehensive written report that was made mostly public last month.
The only major news was his announcement that he was now formally resigning from the department and that he did not think it was “appropriate” to say anything more about his probe, including in congressional testimony.
“I have not spoken publicly during our investigation,” he said. “I am speaking today because our investigation is complete.”
But what he emphasized told a story — familiar to close readers of his report and indictments, but nonetheless worthy of saying yet again.
Russia’s “attack” on the U.S electoral system in 2016 was “sophisticated,” “concerted” and “systematic.” Any effort to impede the investigation into a matter of that “paramount importance” struck “at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”
“As set forth in our report, after that investigation, if we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that,” Mueller said.
Mueller investigated Russian links to the Trump campaign, and after a brief allusion to the campaign’s “response” to Russia’s “activity,” he reiterated that the evidence was “insufficient” to bring criminal conspiracy charges.
That language stood in contrast to the “no collusion” refrain — facilitated by Attorney General Bill Barr — that has been President Trump’s and his allies’ talking point since Barr initially summarized Mueller’s findings.
But the more vexing question for the last two months was whether Mueller believed the President committed a crime by obstructing the investigation — and his remarks Wednesday did not provide a clearer picture.
Here, too, Mueller merely repeated the points made in his report: that he was working in a framework, set forth in a “long-standing” Justice Department opinion, that didn’t allow him to accuse a sitting President of a crime but that nonetheless permitted a criminal investigation.
“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 now be charged,” Mueller said. “And second, the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.”
Though he never said definitively that he would not testify in front of Congress, he hinted heavily that he did not want to, and seemed to warn lawmakers that they’d be disappointed if he did.
“The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress,” Mueller said.
He also gave Barr, who has been under fire for how he handled the rollout of Mueller’s report, some much needed cover. Mueller claimed that the attorney general acted in “good faith” in making a decision to wait until he could release the bulk of the report rather than to immediately make public the summaries Mueller’s team had provided. Mueller said that the decision that his statement on Wednesday be his only public remarks on the matter was his alone.
But the final note of his remarks — where he thanked the “attorneys, the FBI agents, the analysts, and the professional staff” who assisted his investigation— sounded like a parting shot at those who have accused the Justice Department of embarking on a witch hunt and who have second guessed its reasons for opening the probe.
His team conducted the investigation in a “fair and independent manner” and were “of the highest integrity,” Mueller said.
“I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments—that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election,” Mueller said. “That allegation deserves the attention of every American.”