Former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who conducted a probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, has defended his investigation and said the conviction of Roger Stone, an adviser to President Donald Trump, was handled properly.
Mueller called the Russia investigation "of paramount importance" and said Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes.
"He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so," Mueller said in an opinion piece published on July 11 by The Washington Post.
Stone had been due to report to prison next week until his jail time was commuted by Trump on July 10. He faced a sentence of three years and four months for lying to Congress, witness tampering, and obstructing the House of Representatives' investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election. The presidential grant of clemency stopped short of a full pardon for Stone, 67, a Trump loyalist who has served as a political operative for several Republican presidential candidates.
Mueller, a former FBI director, said he felt compelled to write the opinion piece to respond to claims that his investigation was illegitimate and that its motives were improper. Mueller also said he specifically wanted to address claims that Stone was a victim.
In announcing Trump’s decision to commute Stone’s sentence, a White House statement on July 10 said Stone had been a victim of the "Russia hoax,” had “suffered greatly,” and was “treated very unfairly.”
But Mueller traced the basis for prosecuting Stone, recounting how he had not only tampered with a witness but also lied repeatedly about his efforts to gain inside information about e-mails that Russian intelligence operatives stole from top Democrats and provided to WikiLeaks, which published them at a crucial time in the run-up to the election.
Mueller said Stone was critical to the investigation because he claimed inside knowledge about WikiLeaks’ release of the stolen e-mails 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, Mueller said.
Mueller's investigation, which concluded in April 2019, stopped short of reaching conclusions about Trump’s conduct, including whether he obstructed justice.
Though his report on the investigation detailed multiple interactions between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia, it did not find sufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and the Kremlin to tip the election.
Mueller acknowledged that in his opinion piece, adding that the investigation did, however, establish that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and “worked to secure that outcome.”
He said it also established that the Trump campaign expected it would benefit from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.
Mueller’s reaction comes after the White House statement called his investigation “absolutely baseless” and said the charges he sought “were the product of recklessness borne of frustration and malice.”
His opinion piece also appears to refute the White House assertion that the investigation was perpetuated by “the Left and its allies in the media” in an attempt to undermine the Trump presidency.
Trump's decision to grant Stone clemency also drew a strong reaction from House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who called it "an act of staggering corruption."