For the first time since he was appointed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday spoke publicly about the probe and its findings.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. SPECIAL COUNSEL ROBERT MUELLER, SAYING: "There were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election." For two years, Mueller remained almost unseen, speaking only through court documents as his investigation charged dozens of Russians and several close associates of President Donald Trump with crimes ranging from cybercrime to financial fraud and lying to investigators and Congress.
His report, released last month, said the probe did not find sufficient evidence to charge a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian agents to sway the 2016 election.
But Mueller left a a large question mark hanging over a second item: whether Trump broke the law trying to obstruct the investigation.
On that subject, Mueller wrote this: "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." And on Wednesday, the special counsel took care to make that point clear.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. SPECIAL COUNSEL ROBERT MUELLER, SAYING: "If we had confidence that the president did not commit a crime, we would have said so." Mueller spelled out that, as an employee of the Justice Department, he was bound by long-standing rules that a sitting president cannot be criminally charged.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. SPECIAL COUNSEL ROBERT MUELLER, SAYING: "Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.
[FLASH] It would be unfair to potentially accuse someone of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge." Mueller's report outlines more than a dozen instances where the president appears to have tried to interfere in the probe, first under FBI Director James Comey, and then by firing Comey, and then when Mueller took over the investigation.
But in summarizing Mueller's findings last month, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department concluded the evidence was "not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense." And Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that Mueller found no wrongdoing whatsoever.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, SAYING: "You know we had no collusion, we had no obstruction, we had no nothing." Democrats disagree.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. DEMOCRATIC HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI, SAYING: "We believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States, and we believe the President of the United States is engaged in a cover-up." And some are calling for Congress to act where Mueller says he could not, and begin impeachment hearings.
Mueller appeared to suggest that path Wednesday.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. SPECIAL COUNSEL ROBERT MUELLER, SAYING: "The constitution requires a process other than a criminal justice system, to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing." Mueller said that despite a push for him to testify before Congress, he would not discuss matters beyond what was contained in his 400 page report.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. SPECIAL COUNSEL ROBERT MUELLER, SAYING: "The report is my testimony.
I would not provide information beyond that which is already public, in any appearance before Congress." He said he planned to return to private life, and hoped that his remarks Wednesday would be last he spoke about the investigation.