Republicans seeking to undermine Mueller’s report at congressional hearings may have unwittingly handed Democrats a victory.
Republican questioners tried to exploit internal inconsistency in Mueller’s findings that, on one hand, exculpated Trump from illegally conspiring with the Russians but, on the other hand, did “not exonerate” him from charges of obstruction of justice.
The former determination is a typical “declination of prosecution” decision, while the latter is anything but typical.
"Why not just say there was insufficient evidence of criminal culpability with regard to obstruction, like you did with Russian collusion?" they asked. Mueller’s terse answers failed to reveal the underlying brilliance in the apparent contradictions.
Faced with the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted, Mueller resolved that he was barred from reaching a legal conclusion about criminality.
The implication from these “inconsistencies” is obvious for anyone willing to connect the dots: when he found insufficient evidence of criminal conduct (e.g., Russian conspiracy claims), he said so; when he could not reach the same determination on obstruction, he remained mute.
In other words, Mueller says (by not saying), “The OLC opinion bars me from charging a sitting president, so I won’t announce crimes I can’t charge, even though the crimes are there. If there was no obstruction crime I would say so, like I did with the Russian collusion claims.”
Even though Mueller later backtracked on his answer to Rep. Ted Lieu that the OLC opinion led him to not indict Trump, that original answer was essentially correct — yes, but for the OLC opinion, Trump would have been indicted on obstruction charges.
Because of A (OLC opinion), not B (crime determination); because of not B, not C (no indictment); therefore, because of A, not C. The logic is clear, Trump obstructed justice — connect the dots.