Mueller drops obstruction dilemma on US Congress
Democrats are putting the focus on their next investigative steps.
It is now up to Congress to decide what to do with special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings about US president Donald Trump.
While the special counsel declined to prosecute Mr Trump on obstruction of justice, he did not exonerate him, all but leaving the question to Congress.
“The responsibility now falls to Congress,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has the power to launch impeachment proceedings.
How far lawmakers will go, though, remains unclear.
Republicans are eager to push past what Mr Trump calls the “witch hunt” that has overshadowed the party and the presidency.
And while Democrats say Mr Mueller’s findings are far more serious than initially indicated in Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary, they have been hesitant to pursue the ultimate step, impeachment proceedings, despite pressure from the left flank of the party to begin efforts to try to remove the president from office.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, travelling on Thursday on a congressional trip to Ireland, said in a joint statement with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer only that Mr Mueller’s report revealed more than was known about the obstruction question.
“As we continue to review the report, one thing is clear: Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller’s report appears to undercut that finding,” they said.
Later, in a letter to House Democrats, Ms Pelosi vowed: “Congress will not be silent.”
As we continue to review the report, one thing is clear: AG Barr presented a conclusion that @realDonaldTrump did not obstruct justice while the #MuellerReport appears to undercut that finding. pic.twitter.com/mHCzGc8RGT— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) April 18, 2019
Biding their time, Democrats are putting the focus on their next investigative steps.
Mr Nadler summoned Mr Mueller to testify and the chairman said on Thursday he will be issuing subpoenas for the full report.
And next week, both the House and Senate are scheduled to hear from Mr Barr, whom Democrats accuse of distorting the report’s contents to Mr Trump’s benefit.
But it is unlikely that the full Mueller report or the public testimony will untangle the dilemma that Democrats face.
Mr Mueller laid out multiple episodes in which Mr Trump directed others to influence or curtail the Russia investigation after the special counsel’s appointment in May 2017, and Mr Trump made clear that he viewed the probe as a potential mortal blow — “the end of my presidency”.
The special counsel wrestled with what to do with his findings, unable to charge or exonerate, and sided with the department’s guideline that indicting a sitting president would impair the ability of the executive branch to function.
“We concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,” the report said.
Representative Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said the acts described in the report “whether they are criminal or not, are deeply alarming in the president of the United States. And it’s clear that special counsel Mueller wanted the Congress to consider the repercussions and the consequences”.
Mr Schiff, the California Democrat, said, “If the special counsel, as he made clear, had found evidence exonerating the president, he would have said so. He did not. He left that issue to the Congress of the United States.”
Republicans sought to portray Democrats as unwilling to let go of the idea that Mr Trump colluded with Russia to swing the election.
“What you’re seeing is unprecedented desperation from the left,” tweeted Representative Mark Meadows, a top Trump ally. “There was no collusion. It’s over.”
Other Republicans were more measured. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is one of the few members of Congress mentioned in the report, told reporters in Kentucky, “It’s too early to start commenting on portions of it.”
Mr McConnell was among several people the report said former White House Counsel Don McGahn had reached out to on behalf of the president when Mr Trump was trying to stop then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself at the start of the Russia probe.
“If dozens of Federal prosecutors spent two years trying to charge you with a crime, and found they couldn’t, it would mean there wasn’t any evidence you did it - and that’s what happened here - that’s what we just learned from the Mueller Report.” @TuckerCarlson— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 19, 2019
In all, the report revealed 10 areas of potential obstruction, from Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey to his attempts to thwart Mr Mueller’s investigation.
“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” the report says.
“However, we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.”
Mr Mueller’s team hewed to department guidelines.
“We recognised that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President’s capacity to govern,” the report said.
“We determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.”