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Mueller Clarifies Much-Touted Answer on DOJ Guidelines

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee at a hearing in Washington, D.C., July 24, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Robert Mueller clarified on Wednesday that he declined to charge President Trump with obstruction of justice because his team did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump committed a crime, rather than because Justice Department policy stipulates that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

During a morning hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Mueller appeared to confirm to Representative Ted Lieu (D., Calif.) that the only reason he did not indict Trump was because of the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion stating a sitting president cannot be indicted.

“We have heard today that the president ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire you,” Lieu told Mueller. “The president ordered Don McGahn to then cover that up and create a false paper trail. And now we’ve heard the president ordered Cory Lewandowski to tell Jeff Sessions to limit your investigation so that you stop investigating the president. I believe a 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 OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?”

“That is correct,” Mueller responded.

But during testimony before the House Intelligence Committee later in the day, the former special counsel said that he wanted to correct the answer he’d given Lieu.

“I want to go back to one thing that was said this morning by [Representative Ted] Lieu who said, and I quote, ‘You didn’t charge the President because of the [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion.’ That is not the correct way to say it,” Mueller said. “As we say in the report, and as I said at the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the President committed a crime.”

The former special counsel has said he intends to avoid giving any new information during his congressional testimony, promising to stay close to the written final report his office published on its investigation in April.

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