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Hillary Clinton believes the only thing that prevented President Donald Trump from being indicted as a result of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is the fact that he's president.
Clinton addressed the portion of Mueller's nearly 450-page report that dealt with whether Trump obstructed justice. She said that if "any other person ... engaged in those acts" described in the report, they "would certainly have been indicted."
But because of the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel memo that states a sitting president cannot be indicted, Clinton said Mueller punted the issue to Congress — something she said Mueller made clear he was doing.
"If you read that part of the report, it could not be clearer," she said, adding, "But we do have checks and balances in America, and there is this thing called the Congress. I mean, you could not be more explicit than, 'Please, look at this, you might conclude that this does not rise to an impeachable offense, that's your job, but I'm giving this to you.'"
The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee also said the evidence presented in the Mueller report and collected through congressional investigations might very well warrant impeachment proceedings against Trump, but cautioned that Democrats must be careful not to do so "for partisan political purposes."
As prominent 2020 Democratic contenders like Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California have come out in favor of the House starting the impeachment process, Clinton said Tuesday that such proceedings "should be something undertaken in a really serious, diligent way based on evidence, not on partisan advantage."
"So you don't put impeachment on the table as the only item on the table and say you're going to get there no matter what, which is what happened in '99," Clinton said at the Time 100 Summit, referring to the impeachment proceedings against her husband, former President Bill Clinton. "Instead, you say, 'We are going to proceed with the seriousness that this demands.'"
Clinton said the House Judiciary Committee, where the process would begin, might decide to launch an inquiry after a "careful analysis" of the information coming from Mueller and congressional investigations. She said their responsibility would not be to "prejudge the outcome" but "examine the evidence as objectively as possible and then to draw up conclusions."
"And if at that point they believe that high crimes and misdemeanors have been committed, then I think it is the obligation of the Congress to put forward articles of impeachment," she said, adding that she thought House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "understands that kind of sweep and care that has to be taken so it doesn't immediately look as though you have some preordained outcome without having to do the hard work that I remember so well from my experience all those years ago."
Pelosi, D-Calif., has not ruled out the possibility of impeachment, but does not yet favor it, instead telling rank-and-file members on Monday that fact-finding could continue without embarking on impeachment proceedings. While Warren and Harris are in favor of such proceedings, some other 2020 candidates are openly against the idea.
Trump tweeted Monday, "Only high crimes and misdemeanors can lead to impeachment," claiming the report showed there "were no crimes by me (No Collusion, No Obstruction), so you can’t impeach."
Speaking earlier Tuesday at the Time 100 Summit, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is also Trump's son-in-law, said the Russian efforts amounted to "a couple of Facebook ads" and said the probe itself was much worse for the country than Russia's election meddling was.
"You look at what Russia did, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it, and it’s a terrible thing," Kushner said. "But I think the investigations and all of the speculation that’s happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads."
But Clinton said the Russian efforts described in the report "is the main story," one that "needs to be told and retold over and over again."
"There’s still so much more that we should know and that we should act upon," she said. "And obviously that’s what the Congress is trying to figure out, what to do right now."