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Analysis Of Robert Mueller's Public Statement

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A short time ago, Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, stepped before a lectern and made what he said would be his only public statement about his findings. He restated a number of the findings from his report including reasons why the president of the United States was not indicted for obstruction of justice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERT MUELLER STATEMENT)

ROBERT MUELLER: Under long-standing department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that, too, is prohibited. The special counsel's office is part of the Department of Justice, and by regulation, it was bound by that department policy. Charging the president with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider.

INSKEEP: With that said, the special counsel went on to emphasize that if it had been possible to exonerate the president, the special counsel would have said so. He then did not say so - said it was up to someone else to pursue that charge, if it were to be pursued at all.

Let's bring another voice into our discussion here. Kim Wehle is a former assistant United States attorney and regular analyst on this program. Welcome back, and good morning.

KIM WEHLE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What did you make of Mueller's statement?

WEHLE: It's the kind of statement that I would have liked to hear from the Attorney General William Barr himself, that is one that is just restating, emphasizing the law and the facts, supporting his team, not sort of distorting any of the conclusions - which I think is a fair assessment of what Mr. Barr did - and underscoring what the American public should really care about with respect to this investigation. I think he very subtly undermined a lot of the messages that are coming out of not just the White House, but also the attorney general's mouth.

INSKEEP: What sort of messages do you mean?

WEHLE: Well, I think, number one, he said that Russia is a problem. There were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election. He said that deserves attention, that the whole reason for creating this investigation was because that needed to be investigated and understood. So that undermines this hoax, you know, sort of narrative - this idea that it's a witch hunt. He's saying this is not a witch hunt. This is quite serious, and it's real and it continues.

The second thing he said was investigating obstruction of justice is of critical importance. When someone obstructs or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government's efforts to find truth and hold wrongdoers accountable. So I think that narrative - the idea that, no, you know, obstruction, big deal. This wasn't something we should really worry about. He is saying, no. Obstruction really, really matters.

And then he also kind of emphasized that we should all read the report. I mean, I think his statement was important because a lot of people aren't reading the report including, it looks like, members of Congress. It's a very long report. I suggest everyone at least read the summary. But he's saying, you know, this is my own testimony, and there's really important stuff in here that people should be aware of.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And we'll just remind people he didn't say, I'm going to refuse to testify or try to refuse to testify before Congress if asked, but he said, quote, "the report is my testimony." Effectively, he's saying, I have said what I want to say. And we'll discover if Congress pushes him to say a little bit more.

Kim Wehle, thanks so much. Really appreciate your analysis.

WEHLE: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: She's a former assistant United States attorney. We've also heard from the president of the United States in the last few minutes on Twitter. He says, quote, "nothing changes from the Mueller report. There was insufficient evidence, and, therefore, in our country a person is innocent. The case is closed. Thank you." That's the quote from the president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.