Mueller Defends Russia Probe 07/12 10:57
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
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 wrote that though he had intended for his team's work 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 for a former FBI director who
was exceedingly tight-lipped during the investigation, refusing to respond to
attacks by the president or his allies or to make public appearances explaining
or justifying his work. In his first public statement after the investigation's
conclusion, Mueller said he intended for his 448-page report to 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 privately complained did not adequately capture the
gravity of his team's findings.
In the months since, Barr assigned a U.S. attorney to investigate the
origins of the Russia probe, and the Justice Department moved to dismiss the
criminal case against former Trump administration national security adviser
Michael Flynn even though Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about
contacts with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition period.
That request is the subject of an ongoing court dispute.
The op-ed chronicled 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 central to the investigation, Mueller writes, because
he claimed to have inside knowledge about WikiLeaks' release of the emails and
because he communicated during the campaign with people known to be Russian
intelligence officers. He also updated members of the Trump campaign about the
timing of the WikiLeaks releases, something that he denied.
"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."
Stone was found guilty last fall of witness tampering, false statements and
obstructing a congressional investigation into Russian election interference.
He was sentenced in February to 40 months in prison and was due to surrender on
Tuesday, until the president commuted his sentence.
"Roger Stone was treated horribly. Roger Stone was treated very unfairly,"
Trump told reporters on Saturday.
He was one of six former Trump associates or advisers to be convicted in the
Russia investigation. In total, the investigation produced charges against 34
individuals, including 25 Russians accused either of hacking into Democratic
email accounts or engaging in a covert social media campaign to divide American
public opinion ahead of the election.
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