Five lingering questions after Mueller's remarks

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE outlined his investigation’s findings and explained why President TrumpDonald John TrumpProtesters tear down statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore 'Independence Day' star Bill Pullman urges Americans to wear a 'freedom mask' in July 4 PSA Protesters burn American flag outside White House after Trump's July Fourth address MORE was not charged with a crime when he delivered his first public comments on Wednesday about his two-year probe.

Mueller said he does not intend to speak again publicly about the investigation, saying the 448-page report on the matter is his testimony.

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But that doesn’t mean all of the questions surrounding Mueller have been answered.

Here are five lingering questions in the aftermath of his remarks.

Will Dems subpoena Mueller?

Mueller doesn’t want to testify to Congress, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be brought to Capitol Hill.

Democrats have said they will subpoena Mueller if they have to, describing his testimony as crucial to understanding how Trump may have obstructed his investigation.

But the optics are risky for the party, given Mueller’s public standing.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerNadler wins Democratic primary Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Clyburn threatens to end in-person coronavirus committee hearings if Republicans won't wear masks MORE (D-N.Y.) has repeatedly said a subpoena for Mueller is on the table, and it’s unclear how Mueller’s remarks will effect Nadler’s calculus.

At a press conference, the Judiciary chairman sidestepped questions, saying: “Mr. Mueller told us a lot of what we need to hear today.”

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse to vote on removing bust of Supreme Court justice who wrote Dred Scott ruling Black Caucus unveils next steps to combat racism Democrats expect Russian bounties to be addressed in defense bill MORE (D-Md.) was firmer. He said Wednesday that Mueller “needs to testify” before Congress.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats hit Trump for handling of Russian bounty allegations after White House briefing Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Democrats face tough questions with Bolton MORE (D-Calif.), whose panel has also sought Mueller’s testimony, said lawmakers “look forward” to Mueller’s appearance."

“While I understand his reluctance to answer hypotheticals or deviate from the carefully worded conclusions he drew on his charging decisions, there are, nevertheless, a great many questions he can answer that go beyond the report,” Schiff said in a statement.

Did this help or hurt Dem impeachment push?

Mueller’s remarks added fuel to a roiling Democratic debate over impeachment.

Some seized on his remarks that the Constitution “requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing” to argue he was giving a green light to impeachment.

“The ball is in our court, Congress,” tweeted Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashMichigan candidate's daughter urges people not to vote for him in viral tweet Can Trump break his 46 percent ceiling? NFL to close offices for Juneteenth, making it an official league holiday MORE (R-Mich.), the lone Republican to publicly accuse Trump of engaging in impeachable conduct.

Democratic congressional leaders have opposed impeachment, and they appeared to be toeing the line on Wednesday.

Neither Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Breaking down the June jobs report | The biggest threats facing the recovery | What will the next stimulus bill include? Military bases should not be renamed, we must move forward in the spirit of reconciliation Pelosi: Trump 'himself is a hoax' MORE (D-Calif.) nor Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPublic awareness campaigns will protect the public during COVID-19 Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday MORE (D-N.Y.) mentioned impeachment in their respective statements reacting to Mueller’s remarks, and instead called for continued investigations.

Republicans reacted to Mueller’s remarks by saying it is time to move on, something they’ve been arguing for the last two months.

Pelosi has been walking a tight rope on the issue, balancing rising calls from her party’s liberal base to move forward with impeachment with the more careful calibrations of lawmakers representing swing districts. And the momentum building for impeachment after Mueller's remarks is only making her job tougher.

Without DOJ’s guidance, would Mueller have charged Trump?

Mueller made it clear on Wednesday that his office felt that they were never in a position to charge Trump given longstanding Department of Justice guidance.

He cited a decades-old memo from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) stating that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Attorney General William BarrBill BarrDemocrat asks Barr to preserve any records tied to environmental hacking probe Justice Dept. considering replacing outgoing US attorney in Brooklyn with Barr deputy: report Ousted Manhattan US Attorney Berman to testify before House next week MORE has previously said the guidance was not the deciding factor in Mueller’s decision to not say whether Trump had obstructed justice.

But the special counsel on Wednesday suggested otherwise, calling charging Trump “not an option.”

Elie Honig, one of nearly 1,000 former federal prosecutors who signed an open letter saying there is enough evidence to charge Trump with obstruction, said he believed Mueller was saying that he would have pursued an obstruction charge if he were able to.

“I think he made it quite clear that the OLC opinion, at a minimum, was the primary factor keeping him from recommending an indictment of the president, or from indicting the president,” Honig said.

Barr told senators in April that Mueller "reiterated several times in a group meeting that he was not saying that but for the OLC opinion he would have found obstruction."

Representatives for the Justice Department and Mueller's office said Wednesday that there was "no conflict" between statements made by Barr and Mueller about the role of the Justice Department opinion in the special counsel's determination on obstruction. 

What will Barr will do next?

Barr is likely to come under additional fire from Democrats, some of whom took Mueller’s comments as further proof that the attorney general inaccurately portrayed the special counsel’s findings in a four-page memo released in March.

But Mueller sought to tamp down furor over a perceived break between him and Barr in his remarks, acknowledging that the attorney general preferred to release the report all at once.

“We appreciate that the attorney general made the report largely public,” Mueller said. “I do not question the attorney general’s good faith in that decision.”

Barr faced widespread criticism from Democrats over his handling of Mueller’s 448-page report, particularly over the four-page summary of Mueller’s conclusions.

A letter Mueller sent to Barr shortly after the summary was released came to light earlier this month, in which the special counsel said that Barr “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office's work and conclusions.”

Barr said in testimony before Congress that Mueller later told him in a phone call that he didn’t take issue with Barr’s summary per se, but rather the media coverage surrounding it.

Still, Democrats on Wednesday furthered their criticism of Barr, claiming the attorney general had no right to decide not to charge Trump with obstruction of justice and that the task should have been left up to them.

At the same time, Barr has already moved to investigate the origins of the Russia probe. He said last month that he has concerns over how federal investigators began their efforts, suggesting that he thought there was “spying” on the Trump campaign and that he was looking into whether the intelligence gathering was adequately predicated.

Trump last week ordered intelligence heads to cooperate with Barr’s inquiry and gave Barr broad powers to declassify materials related to the investigation.

And Republicans on Capitol Hill and the White House alike are throwing their weight behind Barr’s investigation, viewing it as a way to prove their claims of anti-Trump bias at the Department of Justice and other federal agencies.

“Now it’s time to turn to the origins of the Russia hoax and get to the bottom of why the Trump campaign was spied on by the Obama-era DOJ and FBI,” the Trump campaign said in a statement Wednesday, after Mueller’s press conference.

“Anyone who is for transparency, constitutional civil liberties, and the rule of law should want to know why human sources, wiretapping, and unmasking were used to infiltrate a presidential campaign.”

Does Congress heed Mueller’s warning on election interference?

Discussion of whether Trump obstructed justice is sure to dominate headlines in the aftermath of Mueller’s public remarks, but the special counsel used his final moments at the podium to underscore the threat of foreign election interference.

“I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments — that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election,” he said. “That allegation deserves the attention of every American.”

While intelligence officials long ago concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, Congress has done little to guard against it moving forward.

Shortly after Mueller concluded his statement, Senate Democrats took up a renewed push to pass legislation increasing election security. 

Pelosi urged the Senate to take up H.R. 1, a wide-ranging election and ethics reform bill, and pledged that Congress will “legislate to protect our elections and secure our democracy.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPublic awareness campaigns will protect the public during COVID-19 Democrats: A moment in history, use it wisely 'Comrade' Trump gets 'endorsement' from Putin in new mock ad by Lincoln Project MORE (R-Ky.) has declared the House bill dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate. He and other Senate Republicans are refusing to take up other election security measures, arguing that the book has been closed on the 2016 election.

Trump has largely avoided acknowledging Russian interference in the 2016 election, making it unclear how much support the legislation will receive from the White House.

“We know there was interference,” White House press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah Elizabeth SandersMcEnany stamps her brand on White House press operation Sanders mocks NY Times urging DNC to investigate Biden allegations: 'I thought it was an Onion headline' Donald Trump: The Boomer TV president MORE Sanders told reporters. “It didn't happen on our watch. It happened on [the Obama administration’s], and we're actually cleaning up the mess and trying to make sure it doesn't happen again.”