Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)

Mueller defends Russia probe, says Stone remains a felon ‘and rightly so’


WASHINGTON — Former special counsel Robert Mueller sharply defended his investigat­ion into ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidenti­al campaign, writing in an 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.

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. He also communicat­ed with 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.”

 ??  ?? Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller
 ??  ?? Roger Stone
Roger Stone

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