The special counsel focused most of his statement on Russia's sweeping interference operations, concluding his remarks by saying, "There were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American."
Mr Mueller declined to exonerate the president since he did not have enough evidence to clear him of a crime, the special counsel noted on Wednesday, which marked his first statement made directly to the public since beginning his investigation two years ago.
The special counsel made clear he believed he was restrained from indicting a sitting president — such an action was “not an option” — because of a Justice Department legal opinion. He did not use the word ‘impeachment” but said it was Congress’ job to hold the president accountable for any wrongdoing.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” he said. “We did not however make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”
The special counsel's statement largely echoed the central points of his 448-page report released last month with some redactions. But his remarks, just under 10 minutes long and delivered from a Justice Department podium, were nonetheless extraordinary given that he had never before discussed or characterised his findings and had stayed mute during two years of feverish public speculation.
Mr Mueller, a former FBI director, said his work was complete and he was resigning to return to private life. For his rare appearance, he wore a black suit, crisp white shirt and blue tie, walking briskly onto the stage gripping a folder containing prepared remarks that he largely adhered to.
His remarks underscored the unsettled resolution, and revelations of behind-the-scenes discontent, that accompanied the end of his investigation. Mr Mueller’s refusal to reach a conclusion on criminal obstruction opened the door for William Barr, the attorney general, to clear the president, who in turn has cited the attorney general’s finding as proof of his innocence.
Mr Mueller has privately vented to Mr Barr about his handling of the report, while Mr Barr has publicly said he was taken aback by the special counsel’s decision to neither exonerate nor incriminate the president.
Under pressure to testify before Congress, Mr Mueller did not rule it out. But he seemed to warn lawmakers that they would not be pulling more detail out of him. His report is “my testimony,” he said, and he won’t go beyond what is written in it.
“So beyond what I have said here today and what is contained in our written work,” Mr Mueller said, “I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress.”
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