Special counsel Robert Mueller's report released Thursday is a 448-page behemoth of a document with a seemingly infinite number of implications for some of the most powerful people in the world. But, The Atlantic reports, if there's one thing to take away from the historic investigation, it's this: "There is sufficient evidence that President Donald Trump obstructed justice to merit impeachment hearings."
Mueller, in the document, wrote in great detail why he “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment" in the process of investigating whether the president committed obstruction of justice. He began by accepting the Office of Legal Counsel's (OLC) opinion that a president in office cannot be indicted. As a result, the criminal allegations, Mueller explains, are for Congress's deliberation, not the Justice Department's.
A typical criminal charge would be investigated through “a speedy and public trial, with all the procedural protections that surround a criminal case." Trump would have an opportunity to defend himself, as any citizen should. But had Mueller plainly said that the president had obstructed justice, it would give “no such adversarial opportunity for public name-clearing before an impartial adjudicator.”
Mueller believed that it would not be fair for him to say that Trump had committed a crime. However, he also said that it would not be honest of him to say that the president hadn’t. “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” the report stated.
“Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” the report continued.
But Attorney General William Barr interpreted the same evidence differently. “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense," he wrote in his summary of the report.
There is a crucial difference between the two interpretations: Mueller concluded that he didn't have enough evidence to exonerate the president, while Barr said that there wasn't enough evidence to charge him.
"But there is another, simpler way to understand Mueller’s report," Yoni Appelbaum for The Atlantic writes. A footnote in the document notes that a criminal investigation yielding charges could be brought against the president either after he has left the office voluntarily or removed through the process of impeachment. Appelbaum writes that "impeachment is best regarded as a process, not an outcome. It’s the constitutional mechanism for investigating whether an executive-branch officer is fit to serve."
“It requires his accusers to lay out their evidence in public, provides the opportunity for witnesses to be cross-examined, and ultimately forces the House of Representatives to decide whether to impeach—that is, to approve charges that will force a trial in the Senate—or to drop the inquiry, thereby clearing the accused,” he continues.
After Mueller released 10 credible accounts of the president's obstructed behavior, the president should have the opportunity to clear his name before an impartial judge, and the public deserves to see the evidence for themselves. Only through the process of impeachment can this become a reality.