In a statement Wednesday announcing his retirement, special counsel Robert Mueller explained how and why his team did not make a determination about whether the president did or did not commit a crime.
"If we had had confidence the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," he said. "Charging the president with a crime was... not an option we could consider."
ROBERT MUELLER: [Volume One of the report] includes a discussion of the Trump campaign's response to this activity, as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy. And in a second volume, the report describes the results and analysis of our obstruction of justice investigation involving the president. The order appointing me special counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation. And we conducted that investigation and we kept the office of the acting attorney general apprised of the progress of our work. And as set forth in the report after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.
We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime. The introduction to Volume Two of our report explains that decision. It explains that under longstanding department policy, a president can not be charged with a federal crime while he is in office -- that is unconstitutional -- even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that too is prohibited. The special counsel's office is part of the Department of Justice and by regulation, it was bound by that department policy. Charging the president with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider. The department's written opinion explaining the policy makes several important points that further informed our handling of the obstruction investigation.
Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.
It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge. So that was Justice Department policy. Those were the principles under which we operated. And from them, we concluded that we would not reach a determination one way or the other about whether the president committed a crime. That is the office's final position and we will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the president.