Note: This article originally appeared in The Washington Post.
So it turns out that, indeed, President Trump was not exonerated at all, and certainly not “totally” or “completely,” as he claimed. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III didn’t reach a conclusion about whether Trump committed crimes of obstruction of justice — in part because, while a sitting president, Trump can’t be prosecuted under long-standing Justice Department directives, and in part because of “difficult issues” raised by “the President’s actions and intent.” Those difficult issues involve, among other things, the potentially tricky interplay between the criminal obstruction laws and the president’s constitutional authority, and the difficulty in proving criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt.
Still, the special counsel’s report is damning. Mueller couldn’t say, with any “confidence,” that the president of the United States is not a criminal. He said, stunningly, that “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.” Mueller did not so state.