There Is No Exoneration

JOHN WOOLLEY: In the weeks since the Mueller Report was publicly released by the Department of Justice, a new catchphrase has entered into President Trump’s lexicon:


It’s short, it’s succinct, and it’s incredibly repeatable. It’s designed to fit onto headlines and hashtags without further elaboration. Most of all, however, it’s the culmination of all that the Special Counsel’s investigation has been warped into by popular discourse: a blunt, unsophisticated political cudgel.

The findings of the report have been characterized as a sort of political Rorschach test, where one’s perceptions of the results are solely dependent on one’s political affiliation. The right claims complete exoneration for the president, with some pundits even calling for investigations into the investigators. The left buzzes with disunity, unable to articulate a single, clear response to how Congress should react. The ambiguity of the whole ordeal is frustrating, complicated, and lends itself very well to the sort of indelicate messaging at which the Trump administration excels. After all, if a situation is complex enough, many will tend toward the simplest answer without much intense scrutiny.

Just because something is complicated, however, does not mean it’s unknowable. Even while major political organizations deliver contradictory conclusions and muddy the truth until it feels unobtainable, the report itself does deliver a conclusion of its own: “…while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

During a public statement in early June, Mueller addressed the supposed ambiguity that had manifested from reporting on the subject. During the statement, he stated that, “if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime… [because] under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. ” He then referenced impeachment proceedings as a potential reaction by Congress, explaining that “…the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”

While the Mueller Report did not formally bring charges against the president (nor could it ever have), it does not clear him of wrongdoing. It lays out page after page of evidence supporting the notion that the president criminally obstructed justice. All that is left is to have Congress make the judgement that they are constitutionally empowered to make using that evidence.

There is very little room for ambiguity regarding the report’s conclusions, and that will not change regardless of how many times the president claims “Complete and Total EXONERATION.”

John Woolley is an aspiring journalist, musician, and a staff writer for On the Record. He studies government in the College and is looking to pursue a career in political journalism.