Special counsel Robert Mueller, in his first public statement about his Russia probe, did not exonerate President Trump, instead explaining why his office never considered indicting him for obstruction of justice.
"As set forth in the report, after the investigation, if we had confidence that the president did not clearly commit a crime, we would have said so," he told reporters at the Justice Department Wednesday.
Mueller also indicated he would decline to testify before Congress, as many Democrats had hoped.
"Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis, and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself," Mueller said. "The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress."
The Justice Department policy prohibiting the indictment of a sitting president meant that "charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider," Mueller said, adding that the Constitution requires a "process other than the criminal justice system" to address wrongdoing by a president.
"It would be unfair to potentially accuse someone of a crime" knowing the issue could not be resolved in the courts, Mueller said.
And to have charged the president under Mueller's interpretation of the Justice Department's policy would have been "unconstitutional," he said. "Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view. That too, is prohibited."
While the decision not to indict the president had been made from the outset, Mueller said the department's opinion "explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president."
The reason for this, Mueller said, is "because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available," in case "there were co-conspirators who could be charged now."
On Wednesday night, the Justice Department pushed back on criticism that Attorney General William Barr's public portrayal of Mueller's consideration of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion barring the indictment of a sitting president was misleading.
"The Attorney General has previously stated that the Special Counsel repeatedly affirmed that he was not saying that, but for the OLC opinion, he would have found the President obstructed justice. The Special Counsel's report and his statement today made clear that the office concluded it would not reach a determination - one way or the other - about whether the President committed a crime," Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a joint statement with special counsel spokesman Peter Carr.
"There is no conflict between these statements," they added.
Republican Rep. Justin Amash, a vocal Trump critic and the only Republican to call for his impeachment, took Mueller's statement as a sign that Congress should step in.
In response to Mueller's statement, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that "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," Mr. Trump wrote.
Mueller also announced the Russia investigation is now formally closed and he is resigning from the Justice Department to return to private life.
A senior White House official said that "the White House was notified" Tuesday night that Mueller might make a statement today.
Pelosi falls short of calling for impeachment
At an event Wednesday afternoon, Pelosi said that she wanted to do "what gets results" instead of jumping to hold impeachment proceedings.
"Many constituents want to impeach the president, but we want to do what is right, and what gets results. What gets results," she said. "We're legislating, we're investigating and we are litigating, and we're going to as we go down the path make a decision based on the strongest possible case to get the best results for the American people."
Pelosi also told reporters that she believed it would be "useful" for Mueller to testify.
2020 candidates call for impeachment based on Mueller's statement
Democratic candidates Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg expressed support for beginning impeachment proceedings for the first time after Mueller's statement, saying that the special counsel had referred the issue to Congress with his report.
"Robert Mueller's statement makes it clear: Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately," Booker wrote on Twitter. "I've been asking for Mueller's testimony--today he made his views clear."Harris wrote on Twitter: "What Robert Mueller basically did was return an impeachment referral. Now it is up to Congress to hold this president accountable. We need to start impeachment proceedings. It's our constitutional obligation."
"The message really is: 'Over to you, Congress. This is as close to an impeachment referral as you could get under the circumstances," Buttigieg said on MSNBC.
Eight of the 24 Democratic presidential candidates have now called for Mr. Trump to be impeached.
Trump: "Nothing changes from the Mueller report"
Mr. Trump responded to Mueller's statement on Twitter, saying that "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," he wrote. He did not address Mueller's statement that charging the president was "not an option we could consider" due to Justice Department guidelines prohibiting the indictment of a sitting president.
In a statement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders urged the country to move on from the investigation.
"The Special Counsel has completed the investigation, closed his office, and has closed the case. Mr. Mueller explicitly said that he has nothing to add beyond the report, and therefore, does not plan to testify before Congress. The report was clear--there was no collusion, no conspiracy--and the Department of Justice confirmed there was no obstruction. Special Counsel Mueller also stated that Attorney General Barr acted in good faith in his handling of the report. After two years, the Special Counsel is moving on with his life, and everyone else should do the same," Sanders said.
Nadler does not say whether he will subpoena Mueller
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement that Mueller's address "clearly demonstrated that President Trump is lying about the Special Counsel's findings, lying about the testimony of key witnesses in the Special Counsel's report, and is lying in saying that the Special Counsel found no obstruction and no collusion."
However, Nadler did not say whether he would subpoena Mueller to testify before the committee. Mueller indicated he would not provide any further information on the report if he were to appear before Congress, saying, "the report is my testimony."
"Any testimony from this office would not go beyond this report. It contains our finding, our analysis, and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose the words carefully and the work speaks for itself," Mueller said. "I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress."
The House Judiciary Committee has aggressively investigated Mr. Trump, and recently voted to hold Barr in contempt for not supplying documents related to the report to the committee.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said during an unrelated press conference Wednesday that he was "still digesting the statement" by Mueller.
"It's clear as a bell whatever side you're on politically, that Russia interfered. Its also clear as a bell if we sit here and do nothing it'll be worse in 2020. Faith in Democracy will erode and that's very bad for America," Schumer said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Justin Amash, the only Republican to come out publicly in support of beginning impeachment proceedings in Congress, reacted to Mueller's statement more succinctly.
"The ball is in our court, Congress," Amash wrote on Twitter.
Trump monitoring Mueller situation, as White House press staff meet
Mr.Trump was monitoring Mueller's statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told the White House pool reporter, although she wouldn't comment on where he was when Mueller spoke. No Marine was stationed outside the West Wing as of 10:50 a.m., a likely indication that the president was watching the statement from elsewhere on the White House grounds.
Most Americans believe Mueller should testify before Congress
A CBS News poll published last week found that 74% of Americans want Mueller to testify before Congress, although they remain divided on whether Democrats should continue to investigate election interference in the 2016 election.
More than half of Americans are ready to see congressional Democrats drop the Russia matter and move on to other issues, although 73% percent of Democrats want Democrats in Congress to continue to investigate.
Overall, 58% of Americans feel they have heard enough about the Mueller report.
Still, if there are investigations, 77% of Americans -- including most Republicans -- feel the Trump administration should cooperate.
Americans remain split over the report's findings. Thirty-one percent feel the report has cleared Mr. Trump of illegal activity, and 33% feel it has not. Thirty-six percent still feel it is too soon to know.