Did Mueller change his statement that Trump could be indicted after he leaves office?
After former special counsel Robert Mueller finished testifying before Congress Tuesday, President Trump declared it had been a "very good day" for Republicans, and told reporters at the White House that Mueller's performance "was obviously not good."
Trump claims Mueller corrected his statement on whether he could face charges after he has left office
But when he was asked by CBS News White House correspondent Paula Reid about Mueller's testimony that the president could face charges once he leaves office, the president denied Mueller had said this. After Reid pointed out that "yes, he did," Mr. Trump called her "fake news" and told her to "read [Mueller's] correction." She pointed out that Mueller had in fact corrected his answer on clearing Mr. Trump, which the president answered with more insults.
Is he right?
So, is the president right that Mueller corrected himself on his testimony about whether he could face charges once he is no longer president? No.
The president pointed to the fact that Mueller corrected himself — and the special counsel only made one correction to his testimony, so the reference was clear. But Mr. Trump was wrong about what Mueller's correction addressed. It was not about whether he could face charges after he leaves office. It was about whether Mr. Trump would have been indicted were it not for the Justice Department guidance that a current president can't be indicted.
The answer Mueller corrected
In an exchange Mueller had with Rep. Ted Lieu, Democrat of California, during the first hearing, Lieu had asked Mueller about a different topic — whether he had declined to indict the president because of the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
The OLC opinion says that indicting a sitting president "would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions." Here's the exchange below:
"The reason again that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of the OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?" Lieu had asked.
"That is correct," Mueller replied. There was a bit of a stir over Mueller's initial response to Lieu because it sounded like he was saying that he might have indicted Mr. Trump were it not for the fact that he is the president. This is a conclusion that did not appear in the special counsel's report or in his prior public statement.
Mueller amended his answer to Lieu in the afternoon, during his opening statement before the House Intelligence committee.
"Before we go to questions, I want to add one correction to my testimony this morning," Mueller told the panel. "I want to go back to one thing that was said this morning by Mr. Lieu who said, and I quote, 'You didn't charge the president because of the OLC opinion.' That is not the correct way to say it. As we say in the report, and as I said at the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime."
So, did Mueller say Trump could face charges after leaving office?
Yes. While the OLC guidance says a sitting president cannot be indicted, Mueller testified several times during questioning on Wednesday that Mr. Trump could face charges after leaving office.
At one point Wednesday, he was asked by House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, "Under Department of Justice policy, the president could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice crimes after he leaves office — is this correct?"
"True," Mueller replied.
And although Mueller did not make a determination that obstruction had been committed by the president, he agreed that an unsuccessful attempt to obstruct — like attempting to remove the special counsel — would still qualify as a crime.
Here's a portion of CBS News' Paula Reid's exchange with the president on the South Lawn, according to a White House transcript:
Reid: Mueller said you could be charged once you leave office.
THE PRESIDENT: No, he didn't say that.
Reid: Yes, he did.
THE PRESIDENT: Again, you're fake news. And you're right at the top of the list, also.
Let me just tell you —
Reid: That is what he said, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: — go back to what — it's not what he said. Read his correction.
Reid: That was not his correction. His correction was about exonerating you.
THE PRESIDENT: Read his correction.
Reid: It was about exonerating you. That was not about if you could be charged after you leave office.
THE PRESIDENT: If you read his correction, you'll find out. That's why people don't deal with you because you're not an honest reporter.
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