The redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report released on Thursday runs 448 pages. But its most important implication can be summarized in a single sentence: There is sufficient evidence that President Donald Trump obstructed justice to merit impeachment hearings.
A basic principle lies at the heart of the American criminal-justice system: The accused is entitled to a fair defense and a chance to clear his name. Every American is entitled to this protection, from the humblest citizen all the way up to the chief executive. And that, Mueller explained in his report, is why criminal allegations against a sitting president should be considered by Congress and not the Justice Department. The Mueller report, in short, is an impeachment referral.
In his report, Mueller took pains to detail why he “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” as to whether the president had broken the law by obstructing justice. He began by noting that he accepted the opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)—which issues guidance for the executive branch on questions of law—that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
That, Mueller explained, posed an insurmountable problem. A normal investigation would end with a prosecutor deciding to bring charges, or to drop the case. It’s a binary choice. But “fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment when no charges can be brought.” Ordinarily, a criminal charge would result in “a speedy and public trial, with all the procedural protections that surround a criminal case.” But if Mueller were to state plainly that, in his judgment, the president had broken the law and obstructed justice, it would afford “no such adversarial opportunity for public name-clearing before an impartial adjudicator.” In other words, because a sitting president cannot be indicted, making such a charge publicly would effectively deny Trump his day in court, and the chance to clear his name.