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Mueller: Special counsel probe did not exonerate Trump

Special counsel Robert Mueller speaks at the Department of Justice Wednesday about the Russia investigation.

Special counsel Robert Mueller made two things absolutely clear in his statement Wednesday: President Donald Trump is by no means exonerated, and it is up to Congress to determine whether the president obstructed justice in efforts to stop the investigation into Russian election meddling.

Despite ongoing efforts by Trump to deflect and outright deny that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election, Mueller left no doubt that criminal interference occurred. Despite Trump’s claims otherwise, Mueller stated that the report he issued last month on the Russia investigation did not clear Trump of obstructing justice. “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said.

He clarified that Justice Department rules specifically prohibit the department from charging a sitting president. “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider … ,” Mueller stated. “The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”

That process is impeachment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to fend off growing calls by fellow Democrats — and at least one House Republican — who say it’s time to initiate the indictment process. After Mueller’s statement, that drumbeat seems likely to grow stronger — and justifiably so.

Trump has tried repeatedly to divert the course of justice in this investigation. He fired the former FBI director and deputy attorney general, James Comey, in 2017 for refusing to state his loyalty to Trump and to halt an FBI inquiry into Russian meddling. He made public statements alluding to potential pardons for witnesses. The White House continues to refuse congressional subpoenas.

Trump’s mantra-like declaration of innocence — “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION” — veers wildly from the Mueller report’s actual conclusions. Even during his recent trip to Japan, Trump remained obsessed with revenge, calling for the Justice Department to investigate what he believes to be acts of “treason” by those who investigated him.

There is nothing treasonous about investigating actions by a longtime U.S. rival to interfere with a U.S. presidential election. If Trump didn’t violate the law in efforts to block the investigation, why wouldn’t Mueller’s report say so? Particularly galling for the ego-driven Trump is Mueller’s confirmation of Russian interference, which, on top of his loss of the 2016 popular vote, calls the legitimacy of his election into question.

In spite of White House efforts Wednesday to dismiss Mueller’s statement as nothing new, House Democrats are not going to let this issue die. Nor should they.

House Republicans should acquire a backbone and follow the lead of Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who favors impeachment to protect American democracy. Blindly following the partisan preferences of his constituents is “not my job,” Amash told a Grand Rapids audience on Tuesday. “My job is to uphold the Constitution.”

Editor's note: This editorial has been updated to correct James Comey's title.