Mueller de­fends Rus­sia probe, calls Stone a felon

The News Tribune - - Nation & World - BY ERIC TUCKER As­so­ci­ated Press

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 in July 2019. 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 tightlippe­d 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 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 four­page 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 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.

ALEX BRAN­DON AP

For­mer spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller tes­ti­fies on July 24, 2019, be­fore the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee hear­ing on his re­port on Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence. Mueller sharply de­fended his in­ves­ti­ga­tion in an opin­ion piece Satur­day.

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