Special counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday morning that in any testimony before Congress he would not provide information beyond what is already public about Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election or accusations of obstruction into his investigation by President Donald Trump. But in what could be a roadmap forward for Democrats, he noted that there is another procedure for charging a president of a crime.
That procedure is impeachment by Congress.
“The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing," he said, without using the word "impeachment."
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His comment came as part of his explanation about why charging the president with a crime was "not an option we could consider."
Mueller repeated what he said in the report, that if the special counsel’s team had confidence that the president did not commit a crime it would have said so.
“We did not however make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime,” he said.
He also reiterated that a decision from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel did not permit him to charge a president with a crime while he is in office, even if the charge were kept under seal and hidden from the public.
Still, volume II of his report outlines 10 possible episodes of obstruction.
Democrats have been wrestling with whether to initiate an impeachment investigation into whether Trump tried to obstruct Mueller’s investigation, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging restraint. At the same she has been goading Trump in her public statements.
Last week, she said, “We do believe that it’s important to follow the facts. We believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States, and we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up.”
On Wednesday she thanked Mueller for his "patriotic duty to seek the truth" and said that "the Congress holds sacred its constitutional responsibility to investigate and hold the President accountable for his abuse of power."
Rep. Jerry Nadler, Democrat of New York, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has the power to initiate an impeachment inquiry, but after Mueller's statement he also stopped short of calling for one.
“Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump — and we will do so," Nadler said. "No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law."
Other Democrats have begun talk about impeachment, among them those running for president in 2020: former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
"Mueller's statement makes clear what those who have read his report know: It is an impeachment referral, and it's up to Congress to act," Warren tweeted. "They should."
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has said he would support impeachment proceedings, called Mueller's statement as close as to an impeachment referral as possible under the circumstances
"The message really is, 'Over to you, Congress,'" he said.
Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the Democratic chairman of the House Budget Committee, said on MSNBC on Saturday, "I'm one of those who believes that we will inevitably have an impeachment proceeding, and if we don't then we've actually neglected our duty under the Constitution,"
On the Republican side, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a strong ally of Trump, tweeted: "And as for me, the case is over. Mr. Mueller has decided to move on and let the report speak for itself. Congress should follow his lead."
Trump himself tweeted: "There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed!"