What the Mueller Report Has to Say on Obstruction

'Fairness concerns' prevented a definitive conclusion
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 18, 2019 12:59 PM CDT
Why No Obstruction Conclusion? What Mueller Says
President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in this file photo.   (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)

Robert Mueller looked into 10 different instances of possible obstruction-of-justice issues in regard to President Trump, but in the end did not reach a conclusion about whether he was guilty on that front. Why not? Thursday's release of the report allows everyone to read the Mueller team's own words on the issue. Highlights:

  • The 10 issues: Vox lists the 10 issues and has the pertinent excerpts from the report. They include the firing of James Comey, Trump ordering White House counsel Don McGahn to deny reports that Trump ordered the removal of the special counsel, and the president's efforts to get Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal and take control of the investigation.
  • The tough call: “The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment,” the report said. “At the same time, 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, we are unable to reach that judgment.” Then comes the line Attorney General William Barr had previously quoted in his summary letter: “Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
  • Sitting president: One big factor cited by Mueller is the federal legal guidance that sitting presidents can't be charged with crimes, notes the Wall Street Journal. “We recognized that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President’s capacity to govern and potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct." Politico quotes another line on the subject: “Fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment when no charges can be brought."
  • But: At another point, the report reads, “The Constitution does not categorically and permanently immunize the president,” per the Washington Post.

  • Underlings: The report suggests that Trump may have been saved from bigger trouble by staffers who declined to carry out orders, reports the Washington Post. For example, the Mueller report says Trump ordered aide KT McFarland to write a memo saying the president did not order then-national security adviser Michael Flynn to discuss sensitive issues with a Russian ambassador. McFarland didn't do so, in part because she was unsure whether that was true. “Some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn’s calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President’s knowledge," says the report.
  • Elaborating: What the report says on the underlings issue: "The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests," per CNN. It then ticks off several examples.
  • Congress: Mueller wrote that while he didn't bring charges, that doesn't mean Congress can't do its own investigation. "With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has the authority to prohibit a President's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice," the report says.
(More Mueller report stories.)

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