Special Counsel Robert Mueller was definite in his answer on Wednesday that yes, US President Donald Trump could be charged with obstruction of justice once he leaves office.
The former FBI head addressed US congress for the first time since the release of his explosive – but ultimately hedged – 448 page report released in April into whether the US president colluded with Russia in order to get elected.
The report has been seen by Democrats as proof that the president broke the law and by Republicans as evidence that there was no wrong-doing.
As such, Mr Mueller’s testimony on Wednesday was met with hyper-partisanship that exposed deep divides between Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
Mr Mueller mostly stuck to the findings of his report as he was grilled and sometimes screamed at by members of Congress.
But it was the question by Republican Congressman Ken Buck that reignited the fierce debate over possible legal action against Mr Trump.
The Special Counsel simply responded to Mr Buck’s question, “You could charge the United States President with obstruction of justice after he left office?” by simply firing back, “yes.”
Mr Mueller also reiterated his view to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler that “the president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.”
He also told Congressman Ted Lieu that the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel [OLC] memo issued in 2000 was the reason that his team did not indict Mr Trump.
“The reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?” Mr Lieu said.
That is correct,” Mr Mueller responded. He then added he “can continue the investigation to see if there are other persons that can be drawn into the conspiracy.”
The OLC appears to prevent any indictment of a sitting president.
However, Mr Mueller did not agree with some of the rhetoric coming from Democrats that Mr Trump should have charged with obstruction based on the investigation.
“I don’t subscribe to the way you analysed that,” Mr Mueller told Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. “I’m not saying it’s out of the ballpark… but I’m not supportive of that analytical charge.”
The Special Counsel was also cautious and reluctant at times.
According to NBC, Mr Mueller declined or deflected questions at least 81 times.
But, even before he began testifying, partisan attacks overshadowed the testimony.
Mr Trump called it a “rigged witch hunt” even before the Special Counsel took to his seat in front of Congress.
As the lawmakers and Mr Mueller took a break, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham provided the pool with her view of the testimony.
“The last three hours have been an epic embarrassment for the Democrats. Expect more of the same in the second half,” she said.
It was obvious, however, that the US President was watching as he tweeted at least 11 times while Mr Mueller was speaking. In one tweet, he quoted Fox News anchor Chris Wallace that “this has been a disaster for the Democrats and a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller.”
But Democratic candidates vying to replace Donald Trump in 2020 also jumped on the Twitter wagon and used Mr Mueller’s accusations to slam the US President.
Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren both called for impeachment proceedings to begin in the House.