What Mueller is handing to House Democrats

It’s not over yet for Trump.
It’s not over yet for Trump.
Image: Illustration by Bárbara Abbês, Photo by Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
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“Game over” US president Donald Trump tweeted today after attorney general William Barr told Americans that the special counsel report he was about to release concluded that Trump’s presidential campaign did not conspire with the Russian government to swing the 2016 presidential election.

The 448-page document, however, suggests that the probing into presidential wrongdoing is far from over. Special counsel Robert Mueller decided not to press any charges against Trump, but the report provides a trove of information for others investigating the Trump administration to pick up where he left off.

Indeed, Mueller seems to be punting to Congress the responsibility of determining whether Trump obstructed the special counsel investigation, or otherwise acted inappropriately. Democrats in Congress, who have already opened various probes into the Trump administration, are biting.

Here’s what could happen next:

Congressional authority

Mueller determined that he did not have the authority to indict the president, in accordance with Department of Justice policy. Congress can’t press criminal charges either, but it has the power to investigate the president, and ultimately, impeach him.

“We concluded that Congress has the authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,” wrote Mueller in his report.

Mueller clearly left the obstruction question open, providing House Democrats justification to continue their work, as Quartz previously wrote. “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, we are unable to reach that judgment,” Mueller wrote.

The full report

Democratic members of the House are already mobilizing to follow up on Mueller’s probe. “The Special Counsel’s office conducted an incredibly thorough investigation in order to preserve the evidence for future investigators,” US representative Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York, said in a statement. “The responsibility now falls to Congress to hold the President accountable for his actions.”

Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said he will issue a subpoena for the full report. Key passages of the version of his report that was released today were redacted. And so far, the special counsel has refrained from publicly commenting on his investigation.

“Even in its incomplete form, the Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice,” Nadler said.

Direct from Mueller

Democrats in Congress are also mobilizing to get Mueller to testify.  “We believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling of the Special Counsel’s investigation is for Special Counsel Mueller himself to provide public testimony in the House and Senate as soon as possible. The American people deserve to hear the truth,” said House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer in a statement.

Adam Schiff, a Democratic US representative from California, has already invited the special counsel to appear before the House Intelligence Committee next month.

Schiff, who chairs the committee, told NPR that the Mueller report suggests the president’s judgment on Russia might have been compromised by conflicts of interest related to business he sought there. He’s already identified counterintelligence reports mentioned in the report that he wants to see.

It’s likely that other Trump opponents poring over the lengthy document will find other threads to pull in coming days. Whether that could lead to impeachment is unclear.

Some Democrats, including House majority leader Steny Hoyer, have said that they wouldn’t move to impeach and would instead just wait for the American people to weigh in by voting in 2020.