Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller broke a nearly year-long silence on Saturday to defend his office’s investigation of links between the Trump campaign and Russia and its indictment of Roger Stone, a confidant of President Donald Trump whose prison sentence in connection to the probe was commuted by the president Friday night.
“Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes,” Mueller said in a Washington Post op-ed published online Saturday afternoon. “He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.”
Mueller mounted a rare rebuttal against claims from Trump and others that Stone was a “victim” of the special counsel investigation, which found that Stone had communicated with Russian intelligence officials and that Stone claimed advance knowledge of a WikiLeaks dump of damaging Hillary Clinton campaign emails stolen by Russian intelligence.
A jury eventually found Stone guilty of lying to Congress and witness tampering in connection to the Russia investigation. Prior to his commutation, Stone had been frantically trying to avoid a 40-month prison sentence set to begin next week.
Trump in a tweet on Saturday said Stone was “targeted by an illegal Witch Hunt that never should have taken place.” Mueller, in his op-ed, said Stone was a “central figure” in the investigation.
“We made every decision in Stone’s case, as in all our cases, based solely on the facts and the law and in accordance with the rule of law,” Mueller wrote.
Saturday’s op-ed was uncharacteristic for the former special counsel, who rarely spoke about the investigation publicly and whose office was known in Washington to be leak-proof. Saturday marked the first time Mueller made public statements about the Russia investigation since his congressional testimony in July 2019.
Mueller revealed little new information Saturday but bluntly rebuked critics who played down Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and questioned the integrity of his office’s investigation.
“Russia’s actions were a threat to America’s democracy,” Mueller wrote. “It was critical that they be investigated and understood.”
Trump and his allies had for years assailed the special counsel investigation as illegal and unnecessary, with the president repeatedly calling the investigation a politically motivated “witch hunt,” including in front of reporters and in a tweet earlier Saturday.
The special counsel’s 2019 report did not find any evidence of a criminal conspiracy by the Trump campaign to help Russia interfere in the 2016 election and stopped short of implicating the president in obstruction of justice during the investigation.
Before wrapping up its investigation last year, the special counsel’s office netted eight convictions and charged more than two dozen Russian individuals and entities with federal crimes.
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