ROUGH CUT (no reporter narration) STORY: White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders mounted a vigorous defense of President Donald Trump on Wednesday, hours after a statement by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicating that it was up to Congress to decide if impeachment proceedings are justified following his probe into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
Mueller said his investigation was never going to end with criminal charges against President Trump.
In his first public comments since starting the investigation in May 2017, Mueller said Justice Department policy prevented him from bringing charges against a sitting president, telling reporters it was "not an option we would consider." But he also said his two-year investigation did not clear Trump of improper behavior and pointed out there were other ways to hold presidents accountable.
"The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing," Mueller said as he announced his resignation from the Justice Department.
Democrats in Congress are debating whether to try to move ahead with impeachment, an effort that is almost certain to fall short in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The White House and several top Republicans said it was time to move on to other matters, while several Democratic presidential candidates called for impeachment.
"What Robert Mueller basically did was return an impeachment referral," Senator Kamala Harris said on Twitter.
A redacted version of Mueller's report was published in April, concluding that Russia repeatedly interfered in the 2016 election and that Trump's election campaign had multiple contacts with Russian officials, but did not establish a criminal conspiracy with Moscow to win the White House.
Mueller's report declined to make a judgment on whether Trump obstructed justice, although it outlined 10 instances in which Trump tried to have Mueller fired or otherwise impede the investigation.
"If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," Mueller said.
"We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime."