Mueller says charging Trump never an option in Russia investigation, resigns office

Robert Mueller said Tuesday that his office never intended to charge President Donald Trump with a crime regardless of its findings in the Russia investigation, citing Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

He also resigned as special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, saying his work is complete.

“I’m speaking out today because our investigation is complete,” Mueller said. “We are formally closing the special counsel’s office.”

Mueller also said he will leave the government to return to private life.

He said he would not provide any information beyond the report if he testifies before Congress, and does not plan to speak further or otherwise comment on the findings.

“The work speaks for itself,” Mueller said.

President Donald Trump immediately took to Twitter to claim victory.

“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,” Trump wrote on Twitter following Mueller’s statement.

Mueller’s report, however, specifically said the findings on obstruction did not exonerate Trump or his campaign, a point the former special counsel reiterated Tuesday.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said Tuesday.

But he said the U.S. Constituion outlines another process for charging a president, which The New York Times called “a clear reference” to impeachment.

“The ball is in our court, Congress,” wrote Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan, who has called for Trump’s impeachment, on Twitter following Mueller’s comments.

Emphasizing that his investigation found unequivocal evidence of Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, Mueller said the issue “deserves the attention of every American.”

Mueller took no questions in his appearance at the Justice Department.

The comments are Mueller’s first public statement on his report since filing it with the Justice Department in late March.

But he’s also in negotiations with several congressional committees who want him to testify on his findings.

Mueller’s two-year investigation probed possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and examined whether Trump had tried to obstruct the investigation.

The report says Trump and his campaign did not collude with Russia but that investigators reached no conclusion on whether he obstructed the probe, specifiying the findings did not exonerate him.

Attorney General William Barr, who ruled that Trump’s actions did not reach the level of obstruction, released a redacted version of Mueller’s report in April.

But Democrats accused Barr of mischaracterizing Mueller’s findings in his initial summary and in later testimony on the report.

In a March 27 letter, Mueller complained that Barr’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of his findings and confused the public about the outcome of the probe.

The Mueller probe has resulted in the indictment and, in many cases, conviction of at least 34 people and three companies associated with Trump or his campaign.

They include adviser Roger Stone, former personal attorney Michael Cohen, former campaign chair Paul Manafort, former campaign official Rick Gates and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, along with a number of Russian nationals and firms.

Some, such as Manafort, have faced charges for dealings other than those directly involving Trump or his presidential campaign. Several have pleaded guilty and cooperated with the Mueller probe. A number of those cases were handed off to U.S. attorneys in New York and elsewhere for prosecution, and those investigations will continue.

In addition, Mueller’s investigation, focusing chiefly on allegations of Russian interference and White House obstruction, is only one of multiple probes into the 2016 election by Congress and other federal agencies.

Numerous state investigations into Trump, his dealings and his associates also continue across the United States, particularly in New York, the New York Times reported.

Trump has frequently ridiculed the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt” and denied wrongdoing. He also has argued that indictments of various former confidants on charges other than those stemming from the 2016 campaign clear him of accusations of collusion.

Related stories from McClatchy DC

Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.