Mueller defends Russia probe, says Stone remains a felon

National

FILE – In this Wednesday, July 24, 2019, file photo, former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Mueller sharply defended his investigation into ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, writing in a newspaper opinion piece Saturday, July 11, 2020, that the probe was of “paramount importance” and asserting that a Trump ally, Roger Stone, “remains a convicted felon, and rightly so” despite the president’s decision to commute his prison sentence. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former special counsel Robert Mueller sharply defended his investigation into ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, writing in a newspaper opinion piece Saturday that the probe was of “paramount importance” and asserting that a Trump ally, Roger Stone, “remains a convicted felon, and rightly so” despite the president’s decision to commute his prison sentence.

The op-ed in The Washington Post marked Mueller’s first public statement on his investigation since his congressional appearance last July. It represented his firmest defense of the two-year probe whose results have come under attack and even been partially undone by the Trump administration, including the president’s extraordinary move Friday evening to grant clemency to Stone just days before he was due to report to prison.

Mueller said that though he had intended for his 448-page report on the investigation to speak for itself, he felt compelled to “respond both to broad claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives were improper, and to specific claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office.

“The Russia investigation was of paramount importance. Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so,” Mueller wrote.

Mueller did not specify who was making the claims, but it appeared to be an obvious reference to Trump, who as recently as Saturday derided the investigation as this “whole political witch hunt and the Mueller scam.”

The mere publication of the op-ed was striking in itself for a former FBI director who was tight-lipped during the investigation, refusing to respond to attacks by the president or his allies or to even make public appearances explaining or justifying his work.

In his first public appearance after the conclusion of his investigation, Mueller had said that he had hoped his report would speak for itself. When he later testified to House lawmakers, he was similarly careful not to stray beyond the report’s findings or offer new evidence.

But that buttoned-up approach created a void for others, including at the Justice Department, to place their own stamp on his work. Even before the report was released Attorney General William Barr issued a four-page summary document that Mueller said did not adequately capture the gravity of his team’s findings.

The op-ed traced the basis for the Stone prosecution, with Mueller recounting how Stone had not only tampered with a witness but also lied repeatedly about his efforts to gain inside information about Democratic emails that Russian intelligence operatives stole and provided to WikiLeaks, which published them in the run-up to the election.

Those efforts, including his discussions with Trump campaign associates about them, cut to the heart of Mueller’s mandate to determine whether anyone tied to the campaign coordinated with Russia in the hacking or disclosure of the stolen Democratic emails.

Stone was particularly critical, Mueller writes, because he claimed inside knowledge about WikiLeaks’ release of the stolen emails and because he communicated during the campaign with people known to be Russian intelligence officers.

“We did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its activities,” Mueller wrote. “The investigation did, however, establish that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome. It also established that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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