Today at 11 a.m. eastern time, Special Counsel Robert Mueller made his first public statement on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign. This came as a surprise move with very little prior announcement. The statement itself did not contain any surprises, however.
Mueller began his statement by once more outlining the order and scope of the probe and declared that the investigation was finished and that the Special Counsel’s office was being closed. He then announced his return to life as a private citizen. The bulk of his address then consisted of a reiteration of the written report issued by the Special Counsel’s Office which has now been publicly available for a while in a redacted version issued by Attorney General William Barr.
Summing up the report’s first volume which dealt with the issue of attempted Russian interference and possible responses by people associated with the Trump campaign, Mueller pointed out that the investigation had found “multiple systematic attempts by Russia to interfere in our election” by means of sophisticated cyber attacks which resulted in the successful hacking of e-mail servers belonging to the Clinton campaign. The Special Counsel acknowledged the fact that the documents which were illegally obtained as a result of these attacks were then disseminated by fake accounts and by Wikileaks with the express purpose of damaging a presidential candidate.
In addition to this, Mueller once more drew attention to the massive social media influence campaign run by the Russians and he pointed out that both the hacking and the social media activity resulted in federal indictments against a number of Russian actors. With regard to the Trump campaign, however, the federal crime of a broader conspiracy to influence the outcome of the election could not be established beyond a reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, Robert Mueller – once again – did not exonerate President Trump today: “As set forth in the report, after that investigation, if we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”
Perhaps this is why Trump’s Twitter response to Mueller’s public statement (which, by the way, sounds very much like it was written by someone other than Trump himself) does not use the word “exoneration” this time. Instead, the claim has been whittled down to an “innocent until proven guilty” narrative – “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.”
In his public statement, Robert Mueller adopted a strict reading of the oft-discussed DOJ memo regarding the possibility of charging a sitting president with a federal crime and concluded that DOJ policy did not permit him to bring any criminal charges against President Trump. However, he suggested that there was another forum in which further investigations could and should be conducted on the basis of the probe’s findings, thus throwing the ball fairly and squarely into Congress’s court.
On several occasions during today’s statement, Mueller stressed the fact that the investigation’s work product speaks for itself. He also rejected the idea of a personal appearance before Congress, arguing that any testimony coming from him or his office would not go beyond what is contained in the report. Special Counsel Mueller thanked the attorneys, FBI agents and analysts involved in the investigation for their diligent work and integrity before leaving the podium without taking any questions.