Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III told reporters on Wednesday that it would be unconstitutional to have charged President Donald Trump with a crime while still in office -- and in the process contradicted his boss at the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr, who had previously said the president was not above indictment.
"A president cannot be charged with a crime while in office. That is unconstitutional. Charging the president with a crime was not an option we could consider," Mueller said during a brief press conference at the Department of Justice on Wednesday morning. "We were guided by principles of fairness. It would be unfair to potentially accuse someone of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge."
Mueller's statement was a different from Barr's statement earlier this month to the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which he said that Trump would not be above indictment by the special counsel if that was the determination.
"The role of the federal prosecutor and the purpose of a criminal investigation are well-defined. Federal prosecutors work with grand juries to collect evidence to determine whether a crime has been committed. Once a prosecutor has exhausted his investigation into the facts of a case, he or she faces a binary choice: either to commence or to decline prosecution," Barr said. "The appointment of a special counsel and the investigation of the conduct of the President of the United States do not change these rules."
Mueller's remarks suggested that he would have indicted the president for trying to obstruct the special counsel investigation if he believed that the idea was constitutionally sound. In his report, Mueller and his team pointedly refused to state their belief about whether the president had committed a crime. Mueller, however, made it clear that the decision to not fully exonerate him had been deliberate.
"If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," Mueller said. "We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime."
Beyond that, the special counsel reiterated how Russian operatives had worked diligently to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and passed off hacked information from the Clinton campaign to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.
The president and his allies have broadly celebrated the final release of the Mueller report last month, formally ending a two-year investigation into President Trump and whether his campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 election. The president has frequently trumpeted the results tweeting "NO COLLUSION" on multiple occasions since the report's release in March.
Trump responded to Mueller's statement on Twitter within minutes.
"Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you," he said.