Mueller de­fends Rus­sia probe, says Stone re­mains a felon

Enterprise-Record (Chico) - - NEWS - By Eric Tucker

WASH­ING­TON » 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 448page 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 state­ment 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 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 had pleaded guilty to ly­ing to the FBI about con­tacts with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion pe­riod.

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 to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, 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.


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