- REUTERS/Jim Bourg
- The Department of Justice and the former special counsel Robert Mueller released a rare joint statement Wednesday.
- The statement insisted “there is no conflict” between their views on the obstruction-of-justice case against President Donald Trump.
- It is trying to resolve an argument over whether the only thing preventing Mueller from finding that Trump obstructed justice was a 1973 DOJ policy preventing a sitting president from being indicted.
- The DOJ argued strongly that Mueller had other reasons. Mueller, however, has repeatedly said the 1973 memorandum was the main reason he didn’t make a determination on indicting Trump.
- There are multiple other discrepancies between Mueller’s findings and Barr’s characterization of them.
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The Department of Justice and the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s office released a rare – and convoluted – statement Wednesday insisting that “there is no conflict” between their stances on the obstruction-of-justice investigation into President Donald Trump.
The document attempted to square Attorney General William Barr’s statements with the findings of Mueller’s report, which ultimately led to his neither charging Trump with obstruction nor exonerating him of it.
The joint statement, released as Mueller resigned as special counsel, said: “The Attorney General has previously stated that the Special Counsel repeatedly affirmed that he was not saying that, but for the OLC 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.”
It concluded: “There is no conflict between these statements.”
The “OLC opinion” mentioned in the statement is a 1973 Office of Legal Counsel opinion, which says a sitting president cannot be indicted.
The statement attempts to bring together what both offices have said publicly and provide a united front.
The first part of the statement refers to a hypothetical scenario in which Mueller would have decided to indict Trump if the OLC opinion didn’t exist.
Barr has repeatedly said Mueller “affirmed” that this hypothesis is not true.
The second part refers to Mueller’s decision not to decide on the question either way.
Mueller, however, said in his report – and said again on Wednesday – that the OLC decision in fact was the main reason he didn’t believe he was authorized to reach a conclusion on the obstruction question in the first place.
On Wednesday, in his first public statements on the investigation, Mueller made clear that the reason prosecutors didn’t consider charging Trump with a crime wasn’t a lack of evidence.
“Under long-standing department policy a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office,” Mueller said. “Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that, too, is prohibited.”
He added, “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
The report explicitly said that it was not exonerating the president. In fact, the report went further, and said, “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.
“Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
Barr, however, has said several times that when he and Mueller met privately to discuss the investigation on March 5, Mueller made it a point to say it was not his position that Trump could be charged with a crime were he not the president.
“We specifically asked him about the OLC opinion and whether or not he was taking a position that he would have found a crime but for the existence of the OLC opinion,” Barr told reporters last month. “And he made very clear several times that that was not his position.”
Mueller’s statements on Wednesday, as well as his report, appear to directly contradict the attorney general’s claims. This has led lawmakers and others, including Fox News’ Bret Baier, to say that Barr’s previous statements were misleading.
Barr is also accused of clouding Mueller’s findings in other aspects of the obstruction investigation.
Barr said Mueller’s report did not conclude whether Trump obstructed justice because of “‘difficult issues’ of law and fact” about whether Trump’s actions and intent could amount to obstruction.
The report did mention that prosecutors faced “difficult issues” while investigating Trump on suspicion of obstruction, but that was referring to questions on whether to charge Trump – not whether Trump’s actions constituted obstruction.
Barr also said Mueller’s team laid out evidence “on both sides” of the obstruction investigation.
Prosecutors laid out a detailed road map of evidence against Trump, including 11 potential instances of obstruction.
In several instances, prosecutors outlined conduct that appeared to meet the legal criteria for obstruction, most notably Trump’s conversations with the White House counsel at the time, Don McGahn, and attempts to get McGahn to remove Mueller as special counsel.
Prosecutors provided little, if any, mitigating information suggesting Trump’s innocence.
“As set forth in the report, after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said on Wednesday.