Mueller says he does not want to testify before Congress

Special counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday that he does not want to testify before Congress on his investigation into Russian interference.

“I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you about this matter," Mueller said in remarks that lasted about eight minutes from the Justice Department. “I am making that decision myself — no one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter.”

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Mueller also said that any testimony his office would give "would not go beyond" what is already laid out in the public version of his 448-page report.

Wednesday's comments marked Mueller's first public statements on the investigation, which he concluded earlier this year. They cast doubt on the prospect of the special counsel ever journeying to Capitol Hill to answer questions — something that appeared likely just weeks ago.

Democrats could seek to subpoena him, but it is unclear if they will take such a step, which could have negative implications given Mueller’s stated reluctance to testify.

“There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report,” Mueller said. “It contains our findings, our analysis and our reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself.”

“The report is my testimony.”

Mueller’s remarks are certain to disappoint lawmakers who have clamored for the special counsel to publicly testify on his investigation. Democrats, critical of Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration Words matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Justice OIG completes probe on FBI surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide MORE’s handling of Mueller’s conclusions, have pushed for the special counsel to answer questions about his investigation and Barr's handling of his report. 

The House Judiciary Committee has been negotiating with the Justice Department behind the scenes for weeks about his potential appearance, but the special counsel’s remarks Wednesday made clear that he is not interested in answering questions from lawmakers about his investigation or its conclusions.

The House Intelligence Committee has also sought testimony from Mueller, though that appearance would likely happen behind closed doors.

“I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress,” Mueller said in his remarks, which lasted roughly 10 minutes. He declined to take any questions from reporters as he exited the press room.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerWords matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Nadler: Impeachment inquiry a 'made-up term' but it's essentially 'what we are doing' DOJ files brief arguing against House impeachment probe MORE (N.Y.) and other Democrats have previously raised the possibility they could subpoena Mueller for his public testimony if he resists an appearance before Congress. Nadler recently said Mueller was willing to testify, but privately, though a transcript would be released.

In a statement Wednesday, Nadler thanked the special counsel for his work and described it as paramount that Congress “respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President TrumpDonald John TrumpSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration Trump is failing on trade policy Trump holds call with Netanyahu to discuss possible US-Israel defense treaty MORE.”

Nadler declined to answer questions about whether he would subpoena Mueller at a press conference later Wednesday afternoon, during which he read from his written statement.

“Mr. Mueller told us a lot of what we need to hear today,” Nadler said. The top Democrat also said “all options are on the table” when asked whether his committee would pursue impeachment proceedings.

Meanwhile, the committee's top Republican, Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsJustice OIG completes probe on FBI surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers ramp up Silicon Valley antitrust probe | Treasury sanctions North Korean cyber groups | Thiel to host Kobach fundraiser House antitrust panel seeks internal records from Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook MORE (Ga.), who has also welcomed Mueller's testimony, said Mueller is "entitled to his life as a private citizen once again" and declared it "time to move on." 

Mueller concluded his investigation quietly in late March. He did not find sufficient evidence to charge members or associates of the Trump campaign with conspiring with Moscow. Mueller also did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice.

His public remarks Wednesday were his first since being appointed special counsel two years ago. He reiterated details from his report and also explained why his office did not decide whether Trump obstructed the probe — something that has perplexed lawmakers and analysts. 

Mueller said that his office turned to current Justice Department guidance stating a sitting president cannot be indicted to mean that his team could not bring a charge against Trump as they investigated him for obstruction of justice.

But Mueller did not state whether his office would have charged Trump with criminal obstruction if that guidance were not in place.

"After that investigation, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," Mueller said, paraphrasing a line from his report.

Barr issued a four-page letter summarizing Mueller’s conclusions on March 24 and, nearly four weeks later, released a redacted version of the special counsel’s report.

The report lays out Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians. It also examines nearly a dozen episodes in which Trump may have obstructed the probe. 

Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinHouse Democrats seeking Sessions's testimony in impeachment probe McCabe's counsel presses US attorney on whether grand jury decided not to indict US attorney recommends moving forward with charges against McCabe after DOJ rejects his appeal MORE concluded that the evidence laid out in the report was insufficient to accuse Trump of obstruction.

Democrats are particularly interested in questioning Mueller on his obstruction inquiry. Calls for his public testimony grew louder after correspondence revealed last month showed that Mueller had objected to Barr’s March 24 memo as failing to capture the “context, nature, and substance” of his investigation and its conclusions.

At the time, Mueller had pressed Barr to release summaries from the report, but the attorney general said the passages had not been vetted for public release and that he was not interested in releasing the report in piecemeal fashion.  

In his remarks Wednesday, Mueller did not criticize Barr’s handling of his findings, saying he “at one point in time” requested certain portions be released but that Barr’s preference was to release the document in its entirety at the same time. Mueller also made clear he did not question Barr’s “good faith” in doing so.

“The attorney general preferred to make the entire report public all at once,” Mueller said. “We appreciate that the attorney general made the report largely public.  I do not question the attorney general’s good faith in that decision.”

Mueller delivered his remarks Wednesday as Barr was on a trip in Alaska. His statement also came as lawmakers in Congress are on weeklong recess for the Memorial Day holiday. 

Updated at 2:19 p.m.

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Mueller: Charging president with a crime was 'not an option we could consider'