Special counsel Robert Mueller spoke for the first time since the conclusion of his two-year investigation. The takeaways are as damning to President Trump as can be, given Mueller was operating under strict guidelines that he could not indict a sitting president.
They also underscored the degree to which Mueller’s conclusions were interpreted dishonestly or incorrectly by Attorney General William Barr.
The most telling quote from Mueller went as follows: “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that."
Mueller’s investigation showed enough evidence of potential wrongdoing and potential instances of obstruction of justice (Volume II of the Mueller report outlined at least 10) that Mueller and his team could not exonerate the president and clear him of any wrongdoing.
What Mueller appeared to do Wednesday, as he did in his report, was lay out a blueprint that Congress could use to continue investigating, and reach a conclusion that Mueller was prohibited from pursuing, given the Office of Legal Counsel’s (OLC's) guidelines to which he and his team strictly adhered.
In fact, in relying so heavily on the Office of Legal Counsel opinion and explaining that the opinion “says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” Mueller it seemed, was all but begging Congress to take his report and run with it.
Additionally, Mueller made it very clear that he was not going to say anything beyond what he had already said Wednesday and what his 448-page report had already laid out.
There is enough in the report and in what he said in his public statement to inform Congress on how it must address two of the most consequential questions facing our nation today.
The first one is the incontrovertible fact that Russians attacked our democracy, infiltrated private email systems, stole proprietary information, disseminated it through Wikileaks and posed as Americans on social media to amplify untrue defamatory stories, all in an effort to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
Second, the fact that Mueller and his team could not exonerate Trump of any wrongdoing in the obstruction of justice case is an indication that there were some very disturbing instances that the Mueller team could not definitively say were not crimes.
What to do about the Russian interference is a grave issue because the Trump administration is not taking it as seriously as it should, as the president himself still does not believe it happened nor that Russia is responsible.
According to national security and election experts, the United States remains sorely unprepared to prevent another blistering attack on our 2020 elections, while the Russians are clearly planning one.
If this unserious approach to protecting our elections continues, why wouldn't the American people conclude that the president wants Russia to attack us again and that he needs their help if he has any chance of getting re-elected?
On the obstruction of justice issue, the American people should welcome the Democrats’ continued investigations into Trump’s finances, business records, tax returns and bank records.
This information could spell out why Trump refuses to ever hold Russia to account after its blatantly hostile act against us — attacking our elections.
Is Trump or his family beholden to Putin or Russia? Do they owe them vast amounts of money? Are they compromised in any way toward Russia or any other foreign power?
The American people would be well-served by Mueller testifying before Congress even if it is just to read out loud his own 448-page report. Congress should also bring up the witnesses Mueller spoke to for his report. They are the ones who laid out the case that Trump obstructed justice.
They are also the ones who painted the picture of egregious, inappropriate behavior by the Trump campaign in their willingness to accept help from the Russians.
These testimonies will give Americans much needed context, since few of them have read the report and have only consumed the headlines and the soundbites. Many need to be walked back from the erroneous and misleading picture painted by U.S. Attorney General Barr’s initial letter falsely describing what was in the report.
Mueller’s and his witnesses’ testimonies, if accompanied by smart questions from Congress that do not veer outside the parameters of the report, will convince the American people that impeachment is indeed the way to go.
Mueller may as well have said that Wednesday.
Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.
Note: originally published at thehill.com; re-published with permission.