Leslie Marshall: Mueller has given Democrats a gift – and passed the buck. Will they handle with care?

Special counsel Robert Mueller spoke Wednesday, breaking his silence on the Russia probe and his report about the investigation of Russian interference in America’s elections.

The special counsel not only announced that he will retire from the Department of Justice but he will no longer be speaking on the matter. Mueller’s words and tone were quite different than that of the Attorney General, William Barr. Mueller clearly struck a sharper edge with his words than many of us read in his 448-page long report. As former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said: Mueller’s statement “definitely contradicts what the attorney general said when he summarized Mueller’s report"

As both sides, left and right, Democrat and Republican waited with bated breath for the special counsel's statement; with these few sentences, he handed the Democrats a gift and gave them the green light to stay the course with investigations, and perhaps, even impeachment.

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Mueller stated: “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Even though this sentence is in his written report, the fact that the special counsel chose to emphasize that point is quite telling. It’s not only what he said, but what he did not say; nothing about the president being exonerated, no utterance of ‘no collusion, no obstruction.’

Mueller went on to explain that charging the president with a crime was not an option for the special counsel’s office, but the opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted is ‘unconstitutional.’ In this statement, and reference that there are other authorities with power over the president, Mueller was in my opinion, very clear; only Congress has the power to punish a sitting president. And with that, it’s game on for Congress.

But perhaps the most important words from the special counsel were his last: “I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments – that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election and that allegation deserves the attention of every American. “

So in stating that the report does not say the president did not commit a crime and that this deserves the attention of an investigation and adds further that there were multiple systematic attempts to interfere in the investigation; this is code speak for: Congress do your job!

And Congress was listening.

Shortly after Mueller’s statement, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler tweeted:

“Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump…and we will do so. No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law.”

And with these words from the special counsel, "The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse the president of wrongdoing," it not only signaled game on for Congress to investigate further; but for some, this was Mueller essentially referring Congress to impeach the president.

Shortly after Mueller spoke, some of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates weighed in:

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said: "I think it’s a fair inference from what we heard in that press conference that Bob Mueller was essentially referring impeachment to the United States Congress.”

Pete Buttigieg said: “This is as close to an impeachment referral as you could get under the circumstances.”

And Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said Robert Mueller’s statement makes it clear: "Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately."

Congress has the Constitutional responsibility of oversight of the executive branch. It’s not only within their realm of power to conduct further investigations but it is their duty to the American people. But do the American people want further investigations? Or impeachment?

Earlier Wednesday on Fox News Channel, Andrew McCarthy, former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York said:

"I think it changes things in the sense that the Democrats who wanted impeachment are going to be more aggressive, more forward on that. Now, where it goes, because impeachment is political and not legal, really depends on what the polls say. And I think if the polls say the public has had it with this and wants to move on, then there’ll be a lot of blather about impeachment, but it probably won’t go further than that. If it gets some traction, we’re going to see more proceedings and more hearings."

But I’m not so sure McCarthy is right.

Polls show that the majority of Americans are against impeaching the president. But a majority of Democrats who voted for those in Congress and made the Democrats a majority in the House do want impeachment.

The problem is, as I have stated in other Fox News op-eds, that impeachment will not remove the president from office, especially with a Republican-controlled Senate. And at last count, there were between 34 and 40 Democrats who are pushing for impeachment, certainly not the majority, and only one Republican.

I say again, impeaching the president could backfire for Democrats politically as it did for Republicans when they impeached Bill Clinton. So impeaching President Trump would be more symbolic and could turn those voters on the fence off, or those voters expecting Democrats to write legislation regarding health care, immigration, climate change, etc., leading them to stay home -- or worse for Democrats -- voting for Trump and giving him a second term.

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With Mueller’s words Wednesday, much like in his written report, he passed the buck. With his written report he passed the decision of charging the president to the attorney general’s office. With his words, he passed the task of investigating these matters further with Congress. It’s as if he said, I’ve done my job, now you run with it.

Now we will see if Congress runs with the will of the majority of Americans, or with the will of a segment of the Democratic Party.

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