Media pundits and Democrats alike took up their new rallying cry — “no exoneration!” — with gusto as the “Russian collusion” narrative languished. But, while true, it is not the whole truth.
After months of pushing the narrative that President Donald Trump was probably guilty of collusion and obstruction of justice, Trump’s critics were forced to pivot with the Sunday release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s summary conclusions. (RELATED: Justice Department Delivers Mueller Conclusions To Congress — No Collusion)
Attorney General William Barr, in his memo summarizing Mueller’s conclusions, may have given them all the ammunition they needed in just one sentence. While noting that the report does not provide evidence that Trump or any member of his family or campaign committed any crime with regard to collusion or obstruction of justice, “it also does not exonerate him.”
And so “no exoneration” became the new talking point.
The Democrats picked it up immediately:
In light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the President, we will be calling Attorney General Barr in to testify before @HouseJudiciary in the near future.
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) March 24, 2019
AG Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers. The fact that Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report & documentation be made public without any further delay.
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) March 24, 2019
AG Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers
The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public pic.twitter.com/KFICksYXQS
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) March 24, 2019
Mueller spent two years investigating obstruction of justice and found evidence that “does not exonerate” Trump. Barr took two days to set aside that evidence.
The entire report must be published and evidence provided to Congress so the American people can judge for themselves.
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 24, 2019
Dem @RepJayapal on wanting to see the full Mueller report: “Remember, a big piece of this report does not exonerate the President, a sitting president, on an extremely serious charge of obstruction of justice. So yeah, we’ve got to make that determination for ourselves.” pic.twitter.com/YZzDD29ZNu
— CNN (@CNN) March 25, 2019
Mueller did NOT exonerate Trump. AG Barr, a Trump loyalist who opposed the investigation, did. How can we believe AG Barr without seeing the whole report? The answer is we can’t. https://t.co/yMByEEfzDX
— Jeff Merkley (@JeffMerkley) March 25, 2019
Journalists and media personalities joined in as well:
Worth repeating…The Mueller probe “does not exonerate” Trump per Barr letter https://t.co/ytShTvGBNO
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) March 24, 2019
Mueller should testify under oath to make clear everyone hears he did NOT exonerate Trump. He should go through the evidence he found of obstruction.
— Jennifer Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) March 24, 2019
Obstruction was always the greatest threat to Trump. Mueller’s pointed refusal to exonerate the president from a criminal charge – and an impeachable offense – now shifts the venue to Congress. https://t.co/W6HtqkFYox via @BulwarkOnline
— Charlie Sykes (@SykesCharlie) March 24, 2019
Mueller did not find Trump or his campaign conspired with Russia, also did not exonerate him on obstruction https://t.co/EfwZ3cpxLS
Read the Justice Department summary: https://t.co/gZ9JsnZRJC
Watch CNN: https://t.co/UYpqI3w42L
— CNN (@CNN) March 24, 2019
And the thing is, they’re 100 percent correct. But that’s not all.
Former Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has spent a fair amount of time as a prosecutor himself, noted the nuance of the legal term “exonerate.”
“On the charge of obstruction of justice, Bob Mueller’s report ‘does not conclude that the President committed a crime,'” Christie tweeted. “That’s an important finding because that is what prosecutors do—they prosecute, they do not exonerate. Why? Because we all enjoy the presumption of innocence.”
On the charge of obstruction of justice, Bob Mueller’s report “does not conclude that the President committed a crime”. That’s an important finding because that is what prosecutors do—they prosecute, they do not exonerate. Why? Because we all enjoy the presumption of innocence.
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) March 24, 2019
And Christie was not the only one to notice.
“Not exonerated.. “
Oh FFS! Since when does a prosecutor’s report exonerate people? Was Mueller hired to prove Trump’s innocence? WTH?
A prosecutor brings charges when there is evidence of a criminal act. If he doesn’t find evidence, he doesn’t bring charges.
— Larry O’Connor (@LarryOConnor) March 24, 2019
So the special counsel’s report, while making it clear that Mueller’s team found no evidence of any crime with regard to either collusion or obstruction of justice, did not exonerate the president because that’s not what it was supposed to do. (RELATED: Media Pummeled As Mueller Report Deals Death Blow To Russian Collusion Narrative)
Mueller was charged with investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives — and if he found evidence of such ties, prosecuting those involved. He was not charged with exonerating anyone, because, just like any other American, the president was to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
What Mueller also did not do was find evidence of any guilt — which means that legally speaking, the “exoneration” was already baked into the cake before the investigation even began.