U.S. President Donald Trump again pushed back against any suggestion that he obstructed justice during Robert Mueller‘s investigation, on the day that a redacted version of the special counsel’s report was released publicly.
This time, he suggested that the very fact that he didn’t fire anyone from the special counsel’s office shows that he didn’t obstruct anything.
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On Thursday afternoon, hours after the report was released, Trump quoted on Twitter Fox News commentator Jesse Watters, saying, “Donald Trump was being framed, he fought back. That is not obstruction.”
The president then tweeted, “I had the right to end the whole witch hunt if I wanted. I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted. I chose not to. I had the RIGHT to use executive privilege. I didn’t!”
However, neither the president’s — nor Jesse Watters’ — assertions quite reflected what was revealed in the report that emerged on Thursday.
It is the case that Mueller declined to charge Trump with obstruction of justice, though investigators struggled with the idea.
They ultimately decided not to because they didn’t find an underlying crime, and because Trump’s actions that were investigated happened “in public view.”
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Investigators looked at 11 different events that involved Trump and raised suspicions about obstruction of justice.
Those incidents included the firing of FBI director James Comey — he told NBC News in 2017 that he was specifically thinking of the Russia investigation when he fired him, though he later said that’s not why he did it.
They also included how Trump reacted to reports that he was receiving support from Russia, and to the news of charges against his ex-campaign chair Paul Manafort, his work to hamper Mueller’s probe, and to fire the special counsel himself.
Ultimately, the report concluded that, “the evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment.”
They report went on to say, “at the same time, 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.”
The report added, “accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
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But that wasn’t all investigators said about allegations of obstruction of justice.
In a section titled “constitutional defenses,” located in an executive summary of its second volume, the report offered some insight into whether the president was immune from an investigation, thanks to his position as the head of the executive branch.
Investigators said neither the Department of Justice (DOJ) nor the courts have “definitively resolved these issues.” They also said both the DOJ and the president’s own counsel have “recognized that the president is subject to statutes that prohibit obstruction of justice by bribing a witness or suborning perjury because that conduct does not implicate his constitutional authority.”
The section also added the following:
“With respect to whether the president can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a president’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.”
In other words, if Congress wants to investigate the president for obstruction of justice, it appears they can look into that.
— With files from Andrew Russell
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