To continue the Russia investigation, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler is using a misinterpretation of the special counsel report. During a press conference on July 26, Nadler said of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony, “He told us in a remarkable exchange with Mr. Lieu that but for the Department of Justice policy prohibiting him from doing so, he would have indicted President Trump.”
This statement poses one big problem: It isn’t even close to the full story. Based on this contextually bereft interpretation, however, Nadler announced his committee is filing an application for the grand jury material underlying the Mueller report and will continue to “examine witnesses” and “investigate the president’s misconduct.”
The hearing got off to a rough start. Mueller was not a happy witness and was barely cooperating or offering the valuable soundbites Democrats had hoped for. That is, until Rep. Ted Lieu, the California Democrat, questioned him.
Lieu said: “I believe any reasonable person looking at these facts could conclude that all three elements of the crime of obstruction of justice have been met. And I’d like to ask you the reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?”
Mueller replied, “That is correct.”
Democrats got excited. House staffers immediately took to Twitter; they had their “gotcha” moment. According to Vox, “That moment set off a bit of a firestorm among left-leaning watchers. Greg Sargent, a liberal commentator at the Washington Post, tweeted, ‘Whoa!’ Nicholas Kristof, an opinion writer for the New York Times, called Mueller’s response ‘the big news so far’ and ‘very significant.’” Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department press official, tweeted, “I don’t know if this was a misstatement or a Freudian slip, but either way it is undoubtedly true.”
Can’t Stress This Enough
Yet the Democrats’ victory lap got cut short. During his opening statement for the day’s second hearing, Mueller corrected his former statement. He said: “I want to add one correction to my testimony this morning. I wanted to go back to one thing that was said this morning by Mr. Lieu. It was said, and I quote, ‘You didn’t charge the president because of the OLC opinion.’ That is not the correct way to say it. As we say in the report and as I said in the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.”
This is the part of the story Nadler left out, and it’s a pretty big part. Mueller had stated from the very beginning of the hearing that, even going into the investigation, he and his team knew they weren’t going to make a determination on whether the president had committed a crime.
In fact, Mueller said this in his opening statement: “Based on Justice Department policy and principles of fairness, we decided we would not make a decision as to whether the president committed a crime. That was our decision then, and it remains our decision today.”
Again, in an exchange with Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican, Mueller reiterated the point: “Well, as I started today, this afternoon, and added either a footnote or an endnote, what I wanted to clarify is the fact that we did not make any determination with regard to culpability in any way. We did not start that process down — down the road.”
Never Give Up?
Ever since the Mueller report first came out, Democrats have been attempting to draw the same conclusion: Mueller would have indicted Trump for obstruction if the Department of Justice did not have a rule against indicting a sitting president. Every time they draw this conclusion, however, they get rebuffed.
According to Fox News, Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the report stated that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded there was not enough evidence to establish that Trump committed obstruction of justice regardless of the Office of Legal Counsel opinion. Yet after Mueller delivered a public statement about the investigation in May and announced that “charging the president with a crime was not an option we could consider,” there was a great deal of speculation that the OLC opinion was the only thing stopping Mueller from charging the president.
However, both the Justice Department and the special counsel’s office put out a statement that said, “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.”
Democrats put so much hope into Mueller’s testimony that they still can’t face the fact that it was a dud. In his opening statement for the House Judiciary Committee hearing, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said, “Welcome, everyone, to the last gasp of the Russia collusion conspiracy theory.” If Mueller’s testimony was Democrats’ last gasp, this new stage is them gulping for air.