Mueller defends Russia probe, says Stone remains a felon

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 on 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 defence 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 on 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.”

File photo of Roger Stone and his wife in Washington. PHOTO: AP

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.