Apr 18, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Why the Mueller report didn't make a decision on obstruction of justice

Illustration of President Donald Trump with the words "does not exonerate him'" printed over his face.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Special counsel Robert Mueller didn't want to "place burdens on the President's capacity to govern" and believed President Trump wouldn't have an opportunity to clear his name, according to the report released today.

  • But he also couldn't clear Trump completely — because "the facts and the applicable legal standards" made it impossible to state that Trump "clearly did not commit obstruction of justice."

Mueller's reasoning, in the words of the report:

  • The Office of Legal Counsel has determined that a sitting president can't be indicted, but beyond that, "we recognized that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President's capacity to govern and potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct."
  • Still conducted "a thorough factual investigation" given that the OLC recognized that a president "does not have immunity after he leaves office."
  • "A prosecutor's judgment that crimes were committed, but that no charges will be brought, affords no such adversarial opportunity for public name-clearing before an impartial adjudicator."

The other side:

  • "If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment."
  • "Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

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