Law & the Courts

Mueller Says He Cannot Name Another Case Where DOJ Required Proof of Innocence

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller arrives to testify before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 24, 2019. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller said during congressional testimony Wednesday that he cannot name a precedent in which the Justice Department decided an individual was not exonerated because their innocence had not been proven, but cautioned that the Russia investigation was a unique circumstance.

Mueller reluctantly agreed last month to appear before the House Judiciary Committee and answer lawmakers’ questions about his final report on the Russia probe. Early in Wednesday’s hearing, Representative John Ratcliffe grilled the former special counsel on whether President Trump should have to be proven innocent rather than presumed so.

“Can you give me an example other than Donald Trump where the Justice Department determined that an investigated person was not exonerated because their innocence was not conclusively determined?” the Texas Republican asked.

“I cannot, but this is a unique situation,” Mueller responded.

“It doesn’t exist,” Ratcliffe continued. “Nowhere does it say that you were to conclusively determine Donald Trump’s innocence or that the special counsel report should determine whether or not to exonerate him. It’s not in any of the documents, it’s not in your appointment order, it’s not in any of the special counsel regulations, it’s not in the OLC opinions, it’s not in the Justice manual, and it’s not in the principles of federal prosecution.”

“The bedrock principle of our justice system is a presumption of innocence,” Ratcliffe added.

Ratcliffe went on to accuse Mueller of not following the special counsel regulations, saying the portion of Mueller’s report about whether the president committed obstruction of justice does not include any “decisions reached,” as Mueller was not able to conclude whether Trump had obstructed justice.

“You wrote 180 pages about decisions that weren’t reached, about potential crimes that weren’t charged or decided,” Ratcliffe said.

However, the lawyer who drafted the special counsel regulations in 1999, Neal Katyal, called out Ratcliffe, saying the congressman is “dead wrong” about the regulations.

“They absolutely don’t forbid the Mueller Report,” Katyal wrote on Twitter. “And they recognize the need for a Report ‘both for historical purposes and to enhance accountability.'”

Mueller has vowed to stick to the language of his final report in his testimony, telling lawmakers that, “the report is my testimony and I will stay within that text.”

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