Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's testimony before Congress made it clear that investigations into the president must continue.
Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, Mueller, the special counsel appointed to lead the investigation into whether Donald Trump's campaign conspired with Russia's illegal interference with the 2016 presidential election, reiterated that he did not exonerate the president in his report. There is substantial evidence that on multiple occasions (10, to be exact), the president attempted to obstruct justice.
Mueller did not reach a prosecutorial judgment, a move that played a major part in the Republicans' line of questioning on Wednesday.
But there was never any way that Mueller's investigation would end in an indictment of Trump.
An opinion by the Office of Legal Counsel within the Department of Justice instructs that a sitting president cannot be indicted for a federal crime, meaning that Mueller never could have indicted Trump in the first place. (Note: Trump cannot be indicted for a federal crime while in office. It remains to be seen whether Trump will be indicted in any of the other ongoing investigations at the state level, including the SDNY investigation that landed Michael Cohen in jail).
This does not mean that Mueller was necessarily prohibited from recommending that Congress proceed by holding impeachment hearings, as Ken Starr did in his special counsel report during the Clinton administration.
However, Mueller had to contend with a much different political environment than any other special counsel.
An uncooperative president who unleashed a barrage of personal and professional attacks on the special counsel and his team, as well as an army of Republicans seemingly hell-bent on protecting the president. Any prosecutorial judgment by Mueller may have very well resulted in a concerted Republican effort to undermine his report's findings and end in a total disregard of his recommendations. By leaving the question of whether the president committed a crime to Congress, Mueller placed the fate of the president where it would always lie anyways, and in his own way, he paved the way for impeachment proceedings to begin.
Impeachment proceedings are the next logical step.
Mueller compiled an incredibly detailed report, providing a wealth of information for Congress and shedding light on incidents that could be explored further in impeachment proceedings. In this polarized political climate, there was never any guarantee that a prosecutorial judgment reached by Mueller would be accepted by either party, nevertheless acted upon. Ending the report with a judgment on whether the president should be indicted or finding him guilty outside of a trial very well could have thrown this country into a constitutional crisis.
Instead of heading down this road, Mueller chose to compile a comprehensive record of Trump's conduct that could be utilized by Congress in further investigations that would determine whether the President acted in a way that would warrant impeachment. It is the job of Congress to investigate the President's alleged misconduct and decide whether or not it should result in his removal from office.
Impeachment is a scary word. It is associated with the downfall of powerful politicians. It conjures the image of a president mired in scandal, hanging his head low in disgrace. Yet, impeachment does not always mean removal from office. Impeachment proceedings are a cornerstone of our democracy and the brainchild of our founding fathers. They are the reassurance that no one, not even the leader of the free world, is above the law. Mueller enforced that in his report when he said: "The conclusion that Congress may apply obstruction laws to the president's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law."
This is as clear of a recommendation that impeachment proceedings should begin as Mueller offers in the report. It is clear that Congress must act on the information they have been given by Mueller's team and determine once and for all whether the president obstructed justice.
Impeachment is the only immediate way this President will be held accountable for potential federal offenses committed while in office.
When Trump leaves office, all bets are off, as the most telling exchange of the testimony (between Mueller and Representative Ken Buck (R-CO)) illustrates.
Buck: "Could you charge the president with a crime after he left office?"
Buck: "You believe you could charge the president of the United States with an obstruction of justice after he left office?"
Congress, the ball is in your court.