Mueller Corrects Testimony on Why Trump Wasn’t Charged With Obstruction

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
July 24, 2019Politics
Mueller Corrects Testimony on Why Trump Wasn’t Charged With Obstruction
Former Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller testifies before Congress in Washington, on July 24, 2019. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

Former special counsel Robert Mueller said he needed to revise his testimony before Congress on July 24, asserting some earlier statements had been misleading.

Reappearing on Capitol Hill after a lunch break, Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee: “Before we go to questions, I want to add one correction to my testimony this morning.”

“I want to go back to one thing that was said this morning by [Rep. Ted] Lieu, who said, and I quote, ‘you didn’t charge the president because of the OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion.’ That is not the correct way to say it,” Mueller added.

“As we say in the report and as I said in the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.”

Lieu (D-Calif.) had asked Mueller earlier in the day: “The reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president. Correct?”

“That is correct,” Mueller responded.

It was one of a number of reversals Mueller made during his testimony, including one after a back-and-forth that ended with Mueller admitting he’d been wrong when he said collusion and conspiracy were not synonymous.

The clarification about the Office of Legal Counsel opinion hit upon the murky issue of why Mueller’s team chose to make the unusual prosecutorial decision to say it was not going to decide whether or not to charge Trump with obstruction of justice, instead presenting the case it compiled in the lengthy investigation to Attorney General William Barr.

NTD Photo
Journalists take photographs of the television broadcast monitors in the press room of the White House in Washington of Attorney General William Barr speaking alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, right, and Deputy Attorney General Ed O’Callaghan, rear left, about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on April 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel in 2017, decided that the evidence the special counsel’s team presented did not definitively show obstruction of justice by President Trump.

Barr later said that Mueller’s team could have ruled on the evidence themselves.

“I personally felt he could’ve reached a decision,” Barr said during an interview with CBS on May 30. Mueller “had his reasons” for not making a recommendation but declined to explain, Barr added. “I’m not going to, you know, argue about those reasons.”

“The opinion says you cannot indict a president while he is in office, but he could’ve reached a decision as to whether it was criminal activity,” Barr added.

Due to confusion about the decision by Mueller’s team and some of the language they used in the report trying to explain their decision, the Department of Justice and the special counsel’s office released a joint statement the day prior.

“The Attorney General has previously stated that the Special Counsel repeatedly affirmed that he was not saying that, but for the OLC (Office of Legal Counsel) opinion, he would have found the President obstructed justice. The Special Counsel’s report and his statement today made clear that the office concluded it would not reach a determination—one way or the other—about whether the President committed a crime,” said Kerri Kupec, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice and Peter Carr, spokesman for the special counsel’s office, in the joint statement.

“There is no conflict between these statements,” they added.

Attorney General William Barr
Attorney General William Barr returns to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “The Justice Department’s Investigation of Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election.” on Capitol Hill on May 1, 2019. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1 that his team was “frankly surprised” that Mueller’s team wasn’t “going to reach a decision on obstruction.

“We did not understand exactly why the special counsel was not reaching a decision and when we pressed him on it, he said his team was still formulating the explanation,” Barr said of the March 5 meeting.

Mueller’s team stated in the report (pdf): “We determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment.”

The team cited an Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion that the president could not be indicted or prosecuted while in office, but Barr told the committee that Mueller had told him the office’s opinion was not a factor in his decision not to bring charges.

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