Robert Mueller finally took the opportunity to speak for himself — and almost entirely used it to recap his own report. “Any testimony from this office,” Mueller warned Congress and the media, “would not go beyond our report.” No one has directed Mueller about working with Congress, Mueller said, and went out of his way to give Attorney General William Barr credit for “good faith” handling of his report and its conclusions:
That’s not to say that Mueller didn’t send a clear message in today’s relatively brief remarks. The special counsel emphasized that Department of Justice guidelines prevented the office from even considering an indictment against a sitting president in explaining his lengthy discourse in Volume II of the report. With that in mind, “fairness” dictated that his report reach no conclusion about whether Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice. That tends to imply that Mueller might have reached a different conclusion absent those guidelines:
Mueller says charging President Trump with a crime "was not an option we could consider" because of Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president https://t.co/zsmrsrikdX pic.twitter.com/O2BApjEdfv
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 29, 2019
Make note of which arguments Mueller chose not to highlight in this statement. Volume II of his report does discuss DoJ policy at length as a reason for declining to come to a conclusion on the question of obstruction, but it also discusses the very blurry lines around accusing presidents using their legal authority to do so. The report makes much of the need to establish a corrupt intent, which the report also fails to do, in part because Trump declined to be interviewed on those points. Mueller skips that argument in today’s statement, which suggests that the DoJ policy was far more determinative than Trump’s defenders have argued — and waves a red flag in front of House Democrats, who hardly needed the encouragement.
Jerrold Nadler will jump all over that today, but he’ll have to do so without Mueller’s participation, however. Mueller made it very clear that his report speaks for itself — and that no one in the special counsel office will add to that record. Mueller also hailed Barr’s good faith in releasing it almost entirely:
'I hope and expect this to be the only time I will speak to you in this manner’: Special Counsel Mueller says the report is his testimony and he will not speak further about the investigation or report https://t.co/kvh5KLb0C5 pic.twitter.com/Wea20uFfNR
— Reuters (@Reuters) May 29, 2019
The White House has some reason to be unhappy with Mueller’s remarks, but Barr has to feel relieved. Mueller went out of his way to provide Barr with enough endorsement over the report to negate criticism from Congress over his supposed attempts to mislead people over its contents. While Mueller said he preferred to release the summaries in the report, he also applauded Barr’s decision to release the entire report all at once.
The big issue, Mueller emphasized, was the core issue that started the investigation:
Special counsel Robert Mueller: "I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments — that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election and that allegation deserves the attention of every American" https://t.co/xP04w69GH0 pic.twitter.com/DmC9eOiXXs
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) May 29, 2019
Perhaps that would be easier to do if people stopped flogging the Russia-collusion hypothesis and unfreighted the partisan baggage that attaches to the question. Whether that happens or not, Mueller makes clear, is not in his portfolio.