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Trump and supporters downplay significance of Mueller's statement

Posted: 6:12 PM, May 29, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-29 20:24:29-04
Trump and supporters downplay significance of Mueller's statement

President Donald Trump and his team on Wednesday sought to downplay the significance of special counsel Robert Mueller's first public comments about his investigation and the reason he did not draw a conclusion on whether Trump committed a crime.

In a remarkable statement on Wednesday, Mueller made clear he would have exonerated Trump if he was confident the President did not commit a crime while also noting that the Constitution offers another avenue -- impeachment -- to accuse a sitting President of a crime.

The comments recast the spotlight on the evidence of potential obstruction of justice contained in Mueller's report and reignited calls for Trump to be impeached. But the resounding message from Trump, his personal attorney, spokesperson and campaign arm: Time to move on.

"Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed!" Trump tweeted. "Thank you."

Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow emphasized that Attorney General Bill Barr "determined that there was no obstruction by the President," and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders hammered home those same conclusions, while urging "everyone" to move on with their lives.

"After two years, the special counsel is moving on with his life, and everyone else should do the same," Sanders said.

The responses from the President and his team ignored Mueller's most damning comments from a lectern at the Justice Department, where he made clear that he did not charge Trump with a crime in large part because the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel guidelines prevented him from doing so.

"If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," Mueller said. "We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime."

Mueller's comments stood in stark contrast to those made by Attorney General Bill Barr, who has claimed that Mueller "was not saying that but for the OLC opinion he would have found obstruction."

While Mueller on Wednesday did not call for Trump to be impeached, he noted that the Constitution calls for "a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing."

Several Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates quickly seized on those comments, arguing Congress has a responsibility to take action to impeach Trump.

Pressure to do so has been steadily mounting on Democratic leaders since the release of the Mueller report and the calls have caught Trump's attention.

And two sources familiar with Trump's thinking said Trump is not shying away from the possibility.

A source familiar with the President's thinking says that Trump's view on impeachment is, "Let's do it. This fight will end up on our side. American people will see this as a scam."

Another person who speaks with the President added that Trump is not afraid of impeachment and thinks it will motivate his base.

While Democrats would likely have the votes to impeach Trump in the House, Republican control of the Senate -- where Republican lawmakers have circled the wagons around Trump -- makes it highly unlikely Trump would be removed from office.

And Republican and Democratic strategists alike have pointed to the divisive politics of impeachment, warning that a move by Democrats to impeach Trump could backfire, further dividing the country and energizing the President's supporters heading into his 2020 reelection campaign.

The Trump campaign also seized on Mueller's statement as an opportunity to declare "the case is now closed" and sought to put the spotlight back on the Trump-ordered investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation.

Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, said the White House is "always prepared" for a potential impeachment fight, but argued that Democrats would be doing a disservice to the American public by doing so.

Asked whether the White House has held meetings to prepare for impeachment, Sanders said, "I'm not going to get into internal processes."