While President Donald Trump and his allies have cheered the “no collusion” and “no obstruction” mantras, the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report completely undermines those claims.
Mueller didn’t establish any charges of conspiracy between the President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, but he noted that he was not able fully to investigate all the leads in this arena, in part because many subjects of the investigation misled the special counsel about key details and materially prevented it from pursuing its work.
And the report lays out an expansive case for obstruction of justice by the president. Mueller noted that he believed from the outset that he could not charge Trump while he is in office, or even formally recommend a charge, because it would be unfair to do so when such a charge won’t be heard in court. But he emphasized that the report does not exonerate Trump and instead leaves the matter for Congress to take up, if it so chooses.
Reading ever-so-slightly between the lines, Mueller’s conclusion is clear: Trump obstructed justice, but charging him as a prosecutor would be inappropriate, so the proper course is to present the evidence to Congress.
But he also includes an ominous warning for the president. While Mueller believes it is up to lawmakers for now to handle an obstruction of justice charge, the report makes clear that any president could still be charged with obstruction of justice after Trump leaves office.
“A possible remedy through impeachment for abuses of power would not substitute for potential criminal liability after a president leaves office,” the report said in a footnote on page 390. “Impeachment would remove a President from office, but would not address the underlying culpability of the conduct or serve the usual purposes of criminal law. Indeed, the Impeachment Judgement Clause recognizes that criminal law plays an independent role in addressing an official’s conduct, distinct from the political remedy of impeachment.”
“This is a striking footnote,” said former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal of the note, which was pointed out by reporter Adam Klasfeld. “It’s raising seriously the possibility of criminal liability when Trump leaves office. Amazing.”
The reported similarly noted: “a President does not have immunity after he leaves office.” At another point, it said: “Impeachment is also a drastic and rarely invoked remedy, and Congress is not restricted to relying only on impeachment, rather than making criminal law applicable to a former President.”
This all suggests that Mueller would likely think it would be appropriate — if Trump were to find himself no longer the president — for a prosecutor to bring an obstruction of justice case against him based on the evidence laid out in the report.