Mueller confirms Russian interference, declines to clear president of obstruction, steps down as special counsel

Special Counsel Robert Mueller reiterated Wednesday the findings of his nearly two-year probe, confirming that Russia, in "multiple, systematic efforts," interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in an effort to damage former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House by hacking systems associated with the Democratic Party, coordinating the steady release of damning emails with WikiLeaks, and executing a massive social media campaign designed to influence voters.

"The releases [of information stolen from Democrats] were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate," he said.

Mueller, who announced during an address to the nation that he is closing the special counsel’s office and resigning from the Justice Department, referred to previous indictments that spelled out Russia’s actions and stressed that "there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy" with the Trump campaign.

Noting that when a person lies to investigators, "it strikes at the core" of a probe's "effort to find the truth," Mueller indicated that his team had uncovered actions that could implicate President Trump. "If we had confidence that the president clearly did not committed a crime, we would have said so," Mueller said. But he also justified his decision not to pursue charges, explaining that a sitting president "cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office" so it "was therefore not an option we could consider."

That, he said, was up to "another system beyond the criminal justice system," presumably Congress, to handle it.

In a tweet after Mueller addressed the nation, Trump said "there was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent," declaring the case closed.

Some lawmakers didn't share the president's assessment.

"Given that special counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the president, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoings of President Trump – and we will do so," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a statement.

Calling his report his "testimony," Mueller declined to take questions and indicated that if he were to testify before Congress he wouldn’t provide any information beyond the confines of the report. "I would not provide information beyond what is already public," he said.

“The underlying evidence supporting the Special Counsel’s conclusions must be made available to Congress immediately,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement.

But before leaving the podium, Mueller did reiterate Russia's attempts to interfere with the U.S. election and stressed that "that allegation deserves the attention of every American."

Warner said the special counsel's findings that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump mirrors the conclusions of his committee. “As the Special Counsel made clear today, it’s up to Congress to uphold the rule of law, and ensure this never happens again," Warner said. "Going forward, we must take steps to protect our democracy by passing legislation that enhances election security, increases social media transparency, and requires campaign officials to report any contact with foreign nationals attempting to coordinate with a campaign.”

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