Former special counsel Robert Mueller admitted on Wednesday that the determination of his report held President Donald Trump to a different standard than the Department of Justice holds any other individual under investigation.
“You said in Volume 1, on the issue of conspiracy, the special counsel determined that the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) said during the House Judiciary Committee hearing. “Then in volume 2 … the special counsel did not make a determination on whether there was an obstruction of justice crime committed by the president.”
“The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred,” Ratcliffe continued, reading directly from Mueller’s report. “Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Ratcliffe, a former prosecutor, argued that the findings of the report violated Department of Justice (DOJ) policies and principles by abstaining from exonerating Trump after the special counsel failed to conclusively determine that he was innocent of all accusations.
“Your report, and today, you said that at all times the special counsel team operated under, was guided by, and followed Justice Department policies and principles,” Ratcliffe said. “So, which DOJ policy or principle sets forth a legal standard that an investigated person is not exonerated if their innocence from criminal conduct is not conclusively determined?”
After repeating the question multiple times, Mueller failed to provide a clear answer.
“Can you give me an example other than Donald Trump where the Justice Department determined that an investigated person is not exonerated because their innocence was not conclusively determined?” Ratcliffe asked.
Mueller replied that he could not identify another person who was ever held to the same standard as Trump, but added that “this is a unique situation.”
“You can’t,” Ratcliffe said. “Time is short, I’ve got five minutes, let’s just leave it at ‘you can’t find it’ because I’ll tell you why: it doesn’t exist.”
The Texas congressman slammed Mueller for stepping outside his purview in trying to conclude if Trump was innocent and if he should be exonerated.
“The special counsel’s job, nowhere does it say that you were to conclusively determine Donald Trump’s innocence or that the special counsel report should determine whether or not to exonerate him,” Ratcliffe said. “It’s not in any of the documents, it’s not in your appointment order, it’s not in the special counsel regulations, it’s not in the OLC opinions, it’s not in the justice manual, and it’s not in the principles of federal prosecution.”
“Nowhere do those words appear together because respectfully, respectfully, director, it was not the special counsel’s job to conclusively determine Donald Trump’s innocence or to exonerate him because the bedrock principle of our justice system is a presumption of innocence,” he continued. “It exists for everyone. Everyone is entitled to it including sitting presidents.”