Special counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday that charging President Donald Trump with a crime was “not an option” because of federal rules, but he used his first public remarks on the Russia investigation to emphasize that he did not exonerate the president.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller declared.
The special counsel’s remarks stood as a pointed rebuttal to Trump’s repeated claims that he was cleared and that the two-year inquiry was merely a “witch hunt.” They also marked a counter to criticism, including by Attorney General William Barr, that Mueller should have reached a determination on whether the president illegally tried to obstruct the probe by taking actions such as firing his FBI director.
Mueller made clear that his team never considered indicting Trump because the Justice Department prohibits the prosecution of a sitting president.
“Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider,” Mueller said during a televised statement. He said he believed such an action would be unconstitutional.
Mueller did not use the word ‘impeachment,” but said it was the job of Congress—not the criminal justice system—to hold the president accountable for any wrongdoing.
The special counsel’s statement largely echoed the central points of his lengthy report, which was released last month with some redactions. But his remarks, just under 10 minutes long and delivered from a Justice Department podium, were extraordinary given that he had never before discussed or characterized his findings and had stayed mute during two years of feverish public speculation.
Mueller, a former FBI director, said Wednesday that his work was complete and he was resigning to return to private life. Under pressure to testify before Congress, Mueller did not rule it out. But he seemed to warn lawmakers that they would not be pulling more detail out of him. His report is his testimony, he said.
“So beyond what I have said here today and what is contained in our written work,” Mueller said, “I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress.”
His remarks underscored the unsettled resolution, and revelations of behind-the-scenes discontent, that accompanied the end of his investigation. His refusal to reach a conclusion on criminal obstruction opened the door for Barr to clear the president, who in turn has cited the attorney general’s finding as proof of his innocence. Mueller has privately vented to Barr about the attorney general’s handling of the report, while Barr has publicly said he was taken aback by the special counsel’s decision to neither exonerate nor incriminate the president.
Trump, given notice Tuesday evening that Mueller would speak the next morning, watched on television. For weeks, he had been nervous about the possibility about the special counsel testifying before Congress, worried about the visual power of such a public appearance.
Shortly after Mueller concluded, the president, who has repeatedly and falsely claimed that the report cleared him of obstruction of justice, tweeted a subdued yet still somewhat inaccurate reaction: “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”
While claiming victory, the tone of the president’s tweet was a far cry from the refrain of “total exoneration” that has dominated his declarations.
Mueller’s comments, one month after the public release of his report on Russian efforts to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton, appeared intended to both justify the legitimacy of his investigation against complaints by the president and to explain his decision to not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed justice in the probe.
He described wide-ranging and criminal Russian efforts to interfere in the election, including by hacking and spreading disinformation—interference that Trump has said Putin rejected to his face in an “extremely strong and powerful” denial. And Mueller called the question of later obstruction by Trump and his campaign a matter of “paramount importance.”
The special counsel said the absence of a conclusion on obstruction should not be mistaken for exoneration.
A long-standing Justice Department legal opinion “says the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” Mueller said. That would shift the next move, if any, to Congress, and the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which would investigate further or begin any impeachment effort, commented quickly.
New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler said it falls to Congress to respond to the “crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump—and we will do so.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far discouraged members of her caucus from demanding impeachment, believing it would only help Trump win re-election and arguing that Democrats need to follow a methodical, step-by-step approach to investigating the president. But she hasn’t ruled it out.
On the Republican side, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that Mueller “has decided to move on and let the report speak for itself. Congress should follow his lead.”
Trump has blocked House committees’ subpoenas and other efforts to dig into the Trump-Russia issue, insisting Mueller’s report has settled everything.
Organizers of this Friday’s Family Empowerment Fair said the event is about more than the reopening of Janesville’s Section 8 waiting list.
The city is expecting people to camp overnight in advance of the waiting list opening to ensure an early place in line. When the city has opened its Section 8 waiting list in the past, between 400 and 600 people have signed up on the first day, said Sarah Holford, city housing services administrative assistant.
With more than 30 other agencies involved in event promotion, the crowd might surpass 1,000, she said.
Janesville wanted to include other organizations so visitors could explore resources besides housing assistance. The city contacted a few agencies, but soon many others responded because they wanted to be part of the fair, Holford said.
“We wanted it to feel welcoming and inviting. We didn’t want this to feel like a very clinical event as a lot of these types of things can,” Holford said. “If we can make it feel uplifting at least for a day, why not?”
The city is collaborating with service organizations in Rock County to host the fair, which will run 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at the Rock County Job Center, 1900 Center Ave., Janesville.
Janesville closed its Section 8 waiting list in January 2018. It needed time to work through the many names and families seeking rental assistance.
The city will keep the wait list open from Friday until June 28. Holford expects enough people will sign up during those four weeks that Janesville once again will have to close the list and work through the names, she said.
It’s hard to say how long it will take to work through the list. That will depend on how many people apply and how many people respond when their turn comes.
It’s common for applicants to not respond when the city contacts them with an assistance offer, Holford said. Some move away. Some no longer need the help.
Some of the organizations participating in the fair are groups directly involved with housing, such as ECHO or Salvation Army. Others go beyond that.
Blackhawk Technical College will be there with information on continuing education. Blackhawk Community Credit Union will share details about personal finance. Health agencies and anti-crime groups will be represented, too.
“It’s an all-encompassing list,” Holford said.
“There is going to be a program available for everyone whether you have stable housing or don’t, if you’re a single person or family. There’s going to be resources available for everyone,” Holford said. “It never hurts to come in and have a conversation.
“Maybe there’s a program you didn’t even know existed that can help you with something you’re struggling with.”
Helen J. Almond
Patricia A. Brennan
Charles “Chuck” Collins
Richard “Rick” Ericksen
Jeanene M. Melaas
Joyce G. Vriezen
Anna M. Wille
Nitrate contamination of groundwater should be the focus of a state task force examining Wisconsin’s water issues, Rock County Board Supervisor Wes Davis said.
“It’s terribly important that we began a conversation about nitrates,” Davis said.
He was among those attending a Wednesday hearing of the the state Water Quality Task Force at Blackhawk Technical College.
“There are other issues we are worried about, too, such as lead and a host of other things that are problems, but nitrates have risen to the surface, and that’s what we need to deal with at this time,” Davis said.
The task force, a bipartisan group of legislators from across the state formed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, made a stop in Janesville to hear from organizations and residents about issues with water contamination, runoff and other topics related to the quality of water in Wisconsin.
Presentations were given by several local officials including Rock County Conservationist Thomas Sweeney and county Environmental Health Director Rick Wietersen.
Nitrate contamination can cause birth defects and illnesses if not treated. Contamination can be caused by fertilizers and manure.
According to the presentation, agricultural areas and areas with porous bedrock or sandy soil are more susceptible to nitrate contamination.
State health standards say the maximum amount of nitrate allowed in water is 10 milligrams per liter, but more than 94,000 houses with private wells across Wisconsin are above this threshold, according to the presentation given by Sweeney and Wietersen.
In Rock County, it’s estimated 4,000 of the 15,000 wells may exceed the recommended nitrate limits. The Rock County Public Health Lab tests about 800 wells annually.
“The nitrate issue in groundwater is not a new one, but this effort that the task force, as well as other efforts organized in recent months, have been prompted through more local studies being done on groundwater contamination,” said Matt Kruger, executive director of the non-profit Wisconsin Land & Water Conservation Association.
Though the long-term fix of replacing a well can be costly, Sweeney said there are other options.
“Short-term answers are a deeper well, treatment or using alternate water supplies. A lot of people just choose to go to the grocery store and get the gallons of water and use that for their drinking purposes,” Sweeney said.
The hazards of high nitrates are associated with consumption more than bathing, he said.
Pat Mullooly is a local corn and soybean farmer who works with the Wisconsin Soybean Association and the Rock County Nitrate Working Group.
He said locals and farmers are willing to help fight water contamination, citing management techniques that change how farmers till the land and plan nutrient management.
“The agribusiness in the area is very committed to the environment and sustainability,” Mullooly said.
And while the state Water Quality Task Force will move on to the next city after Wednesday’s session, Davis said the conversation it helped start is important.
“In parts of our county, the nitrate problem is worse than it is in Flint, Michigan,” Davis said. “But we don’t want to be alarmists. We want to approach this in an organized fashion and try to build communities of support. Working together is the key.”
Krueger said people need to be informed and speak up.
“There is a water quality crisis that we are responding to right now, but there is also a crisis in the agricultural community,” Krueger said, “and that should prompt a rethink of how we’re doing things.”