Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report leans heavily on a Department of Justice (DOJ) policy against indicting a sitting president — but he made clear during his Wednesday congressional testimony how he believes Trump could be charged after leaving office.
In addressing potential incidents of obstruction of justice by the president during his investigation, Mueller explained in his report how his team accepted a ruling from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel on the question of indicting the president:
“The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) has issued an opinion finding that ‘the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions’ in violation of the Constitutional separation of powers.'”
Instead, the report outlined multiple potential incidents of obstruction and seemingly punted to Congress to address the underlying facts. While the Department of Justice may not be able to indict a sitting president, Congress has the power to hold a president accountable through impeachment and subsequent removal from office.
Multiple questions lobbed at Mueller during his Wednesday appearance before the House Judiciary Committee focused on how the OLC opinion impacted Mueller’s final conclusions.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Co.) asked Mueller point-blank if he could charge the president with a crime after he had left office, to which the special counsel responded with a terse, “Yes.”
“You believe that you could charge the president of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?” Buck reiterated.
Mueller responded once more with a simple, “Yes.”
The video of another key moment:
Buck: "Could you charge the president with a crime after he left office?"
Buck: "You believe that you could charge the president of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?"
Via ABC pic.twitter.com/REBbQsSMYl
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) July 24, 2019
Mueller’s statement is in line with the original memo from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel.
“Recognizing an immunity from prosecution for a sitting President would not preclude such prosecution once the President’s term is over or he is otherwise removed from office by resignation or impeachment,” the memo reads. “The relevant question, therefore, is the nature and strength of any governmental interests in immediate prosecution and punishment.”