Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III is departing the Justice Department, wrapping up a lengthy investigation into President Trump and many of the president’s closest advisers. The Mueller probe has dominated the news cycle for months and continues to be a hot topic in the capitol. And the probe’s impact will likely be felt not just throughout the rest of Trump’s time in office but for decades to come.
First, Mueller argued and leaned on a view from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Speaking on the issue, Mueller himself claimed that “the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
Mueller’s views and adherence to this policy could influence future cases against sitting presidents. It now seems that the only way to charge a sitting president would be to first impeach him or her. After impeachment and removal from office, the former president could then be charged like any other criminal.
The Mueller probe also demonstrates how the separation of authority could be handled in the future. Despite immense pressure from President Trump and the White House, it seems that Mueller was given a lot of leeway to direct the investigation as he saw fit. Even after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was fired for not protecting Trump and William Barr was brought in, the investigation continued.
Barr has since been accused of protecting the president and misrepresenting parts of the Mueller report. At his departing press conference, Mueller made it clear that had he thought the president had not committed crimes, he would have flatly said so. While the Mueller report did not directly allege that the president committed criminal activity, it also didn’t absolve him.