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Kamala Harris calls Mueller press conference ‘an impeachment referral’

California Sen. Kamala Harris strengthened her call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment Wednesday after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s public remarks on his investigation.

Speaking at the Department of Justice Wednesday morning, Mueller directly rebuffed President Trump’s claims that the special counsel’s report exonerated him from allegations of obstruction of justice. “If we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime,” Mueller said.

“I believe a fair inference from what he heard from Bob Mueller is there would have been indictments returned against this president,” if not for a decades-old Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memo concluding that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime, Harris told reporters in South Carolina shortly after Mueller spoke.

Harris also went after Attorney General William Barr, who said in an April press conference that Mueller “was not not saying that but for the OLC opinion, he would have found a crime.” Barr said that during a meeting with Mueller, the special counsel “made it clear that he had not made the determination that there was a crime.”

But Mueller on Wednesday highlighted that memo, saying the special counsel’s office was bound by the “long-standing Department policy.”

“Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider,” he explained.

Harris, who is one of 23 Democrats running for president in 2020, said Mueller’s statement reinforced “that the current Attorney General of the United States misled the American people when he spoke about his conversation with Bob Mueller and suggested that Bob Mueller said ‘no, it had nothing to do with ... that [Department of Justice] memo, there wasn’t enough there.”

In a tweet, Harris said, “What Robert Mueller basically did was return an impeachment referral. Now it is up to Congress to hold this president accountable. We need to start impeachment proceedings. It’s our constitutional obligation.”

Harris’ comments Wednesday sounded a more urgent note than her other recent remarks on impeachment.

At a campaign town hall Wednesday night, Harris told an audience in Spartanburg, South Carolina that, “we have a very good reason to believe that there is an investigation that has been conducted which has produced evidence that tells us that this president and his administration engaged in obstruction of justice. I believe Congress should take the steps towards impeachment.”

Her latest comments echo other Democrats in the crowded 2020 field, who spoke out Wednesday following Mueller’s press conference. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker came out in favor of impeachment for the first time, tweeting, “Robert Mueller’s statement makes it clear: Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately.”

Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and writes the Impact2020 newsletter. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.