More than two years after Robert Mueller began investigating whether President Donald Trump attempted to obstruct justice, the special counsel offered the American people a sobering conclusion in his final report, released Thursday: The most powerful law enforcement officials in the country are not in a position to prosecute their boss, the President.
Despite witness testimony that Trump tried to get underlings to derail Mueller’s probe and lie under oath, Mueller and his team determined not to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” about whether the president violated the law that criminalizes obstruction of justice. That doesn’t mean Trump can do whatever he wants, though. “Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office,” Mueller wrote. That conclusion, he said, “accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”
That Solomonic decision left some unsatisfied. For Trump opponents hoping for his ouster, Mueller’s apparent referral to Congress seemed like a punt. For Trump’s backers, it was a source of outrage. But at a moment when Americans see threats of government overreach on the left and the right, Mueller’s restraint has its merits. Rather than reaching to bring down a democratically elected president, Mueller has deferred directly to voters’ popularly elected officials on Capitol Hill.
Democrats have heard Mueller’s message loud and clear. “Mueller makes a very powerful argument that the President can be found guilty of obstructing justice and he essentially puts the ball in the court of Congress,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, who sits on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, told TIME. The six Democratic chairs of the committees with the broadest oversight jurisdiction are also preparing for battle. “We are profoundly troubled by the astonishing efforts by President Trump identified in the report to obstruct the investigation, including his attempts to remove the Special Counsel and encourage witnesses to lie and to destroy or conceal evidence,” they wrote in a joint statement Thursday evening. “It must fall to Congress to assess the President’s improper, corrupt and immoral conduct in an effort to obstruct the investigation.”