The special counsel behind the report into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential campaign has said: “If we had confidence that the president did not commit a crime we would have said so.”
Robert Mueller made his first statement since he was asked two years ago to act as special counsel to investigate any links between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian interference.
Mr Trump’s campaign was cleared of any attempt to work with Russian meddlers to sway the electorate.
But the report did not make a conclusion about whether or not Mr Trump obstructed justice.
Mr Mueller told reporters that he could not have charged Mr Trump with an offence while he was sitting as president, because of longstanding Justice Department protocol.
He said “it would be unfair” to potentially accuse someone of a crime when they could not stand trial to defend themselves.
Announcing the closure of the office and his return to private life, Mr Mueller said: “If we had confidence that the president did not commit a crime we would have said so.
“We did not make a conclusion.”
However, he defended the investigation, saying it was important for prosecutors to investigate while evidence was fresh in witnesses’ minds.
He also said it allowed co-conspirators to potentially be brought to justice.
Tweeting after the statement, Mr Trump said: “Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you.”
Opening his statement, Mr Mueller reiterated the basis of the investigation, which came about because of evidence of a “concerted attack” on the US which was “designed and timed to interfere with the elections and damage a presidential candidate”.
He refused to enter further debate about whether the individual Russian citizens who posed as Americans online to influence the election were guilty or not.
He said the basis on the investigation meant the team also had to probe efforts to obstruct it.
He said: “When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”
Mr Mueller’s report revealed that Mr Trump had tried to seize control of the Russia probe and force Mr Mueller’s removal so that he could not continue the investigation.
That is a potential obstruction of justice, but Attorney General William Barr decided with his deputy Rod Rosenstein that it not constitute an obstruction.
Throughout the investigation, Mr Trump claimed it was a “witch-hunt”.
He repeatedly told people there was “no collusion” and on the day the report was released he said “I’m having a good day”.
Special counsel Mueller was tight-lipped through the investigation, making his statement afterwards particularly intriguing.
It came amid calls for Mr Mueller to testify on Capitol Hill about his findings, and tensions with Mr Barr, with whom he has been at odds with over Mr Barr’s handling of the report.
However Mr Mueller confirmed he had not been asked to testify and while he did not rule it out, he also made it clear he would not go any further with his statements than the report.
Mr Mueller previously complained privately to Mr Barr, saying that his four-page letter did not adequately capture the findings of the report.
Mr Barr responded by calling the letter “snitty”.
A senior White House official said they had been aware of Mr Mueller’s plan to make a statement and said it would make a statement afterwards.
Source: SKY NEWS