WASHINGTON ― Republicans in Congress are repeating President Donald Trump’s false claim that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into his 2016 campaign found “no collusion, no obstruction.”
Mueller in fact documented several instances of the president trying to obstruct the investigation, but found insufficient evidence that the president’s campaign criminally conspired with the Russian government.
Even Mueller’s press conference last week, where he reiterated his finding that he couldn’t clear the president of obstruction, hasn’t stopped members of Congress from claiming he did.
“If you have no collusion, how could you have obstruction?” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the top Republican in the House of Representatives, said Tuesday.
McCarthy is asking a weird question. Mueller’s report specifically says that the lack of formal charges for an underlying crime does not preclude charges for obstructing an investigation into the possible crime.
“Obstruction of justice can be motivated by a desire to protect non-criminal personal interests, to protect against investigations where underlying criminal liability falls into a gray area, or to avoid personal embarrassment,” the report says. “The injury to the integrity of the justice system is the same regardless of whether a person committed an underlying wrong.”
McCarthy said he read the report, so HuffPost reminded him what it said about obstruction and underlying crimes. He was oblivious.
“If you did nothing, how do you obstruct something that’s not there? I find that very confusing,” McCarthy said.
Trump’s possible obstructive acts include pressuring an FBI director to drop an investigation into a Trump campaign official, firing the director for investigating the campaign, ordering aides to fire or curtail the special counsel himself, and interfering with witnesses, among other things.
“Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations,” the report says.
Mueller’s report said Justice Department policy prevented him from criminally charging a sitting president, however. And he stopped short of definitively describing the president’s behavior as a crime because doing so would hamper the president in his official duties and “potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct” ― a reference to the congressional power of impeachment. Past impeachment efforts against presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton both cited obstruction of justice.
Speaking publicly for the first time since his appointment as special counsel in 2017, Mueller repeated his conclusion that because he couldn’t bring charges, he couldn’t make accusations. And he repeated that his investigation did not exonerate the president.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said last week. He added that “it would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge.”
Nevertheless, Attorney General William Barr, who has repeatedly mischaracterized Mueller’s report, has said that Mueller could have and would have stated that Trump obstructed justice if he’d found enough evidence. And Republicans are running with that claim, which is contrary to what Mueller himself has said.
“If they could have established obstruction of justice, they would have done it,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of the president’s closest congressional allies, said Tuesday. “They didn’t.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), a member of McCarthy’s leadership team, said Tuesday that the continued focus on whether the president obstructed justice is like a witch hunt on top of a conspiracy theory.
“if there was any obstruction, Mueller would have laid it out and recommended something happen,” Scalise said.
“The investigation should never have started,” said Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.). “I see it as entrapment.”