A House Republican and former federal prosecutor took former special counsel Robert Mueller to task on Wednesday for violating “every principle and the most sacred of traditions” of the criminal justice system with the conclusions about President Donald Trump’s innocence made in Mueller’s special counsel report.
To begin his question time at Wednesday’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, brought up a now-infamous portion of the Mueller report that said the special counsel’s team declined to make “a traditional prosecutorial judgment” but added that “we are unable to reach” a judgement about his innocence and that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Ratcliffe took issue with the language, pointing out — as many others have — that it was not Mueller’s job as a prosecutor to exonerate Trump or to declare that the president had not been exonerated.
“Which DOJ policy or principle sets forth a legal standard that an investigated person is not exonerated if their innocence from criminal conduct is not conclusively determined?” Ratcliffe, who served as a U.S. attorney in the George W. Bush administration, asked. “Where does that language come from, Director? Where is the DOJ policy that says that?”
After Mueller paused for a moment and attempted to answer the question, Ratcliffe simplified it: “Can you give me an example other than Donald Trump where the Justice Department determined that an investigated person was not exonerated because their innocence was not conclusively determined?”
“I cannot,” Mueller said, protesting that “this is a unique situation.”
Ratcliffe then said that Mueller couldn’t think of an example because “it doesn’t exist”:
“Nowhere does it say that you were to conclusively determine Donald Trump’s innocence or that the special counsel report should determine whether or not to exonerate him.
“It’s not in any of the documents. It’s not in your appointment order. It’s not in the special counsel regulations. It’s not in the OLC opinions, it’s not in the Justice Manual, and it’s not in the Principles of Federal Prosecution.
“Nowhere do those words appear together, because respectfully, respectfully, Director, it was not the special counsel’s job to conclusively determine Donald Trump’s innocence or to exonerate him. Because the bedrock principle of our justice system is a presumption of innocence.
“It exists for everyone. Everyone is entitled to it, including sitting presidents. And because there is a presumption of innocence, prosecutors never, ever need to conclusively determine it.”
Later, Ratcliffe said that Muller “managed to violate every principle and the most sacred of traditions” about criminal investigations and prosecutions.
“I agree with the chairman [Jerry Nadler] this morning when he said Donald Trump is not above the law,” Ratcliffe concluded. “He’s not, but he damn sure shouldn’t be below the law, which is where volume 2 of this report puts him.”
Video of the exchange can be found here: