Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller has made silence a way of life. Ever since he finished his two-year investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election, Mueller has kept his cards close to his chest. Faced with repeated accusations of wrongdoing by none other than President Donald Trump, who has often called the investigation a “witch hunt,” the former special counsel has said nothing. Even when he appeared before Congress in July of last year, Mueller seemed determined to avoid any hint of confrontation. But a day after Trump commuted Roger Stone’s prison sentence, Mueller decided to break his silence. His message? Stone isn’t a victim and his conviction on seven felony counts, including lying to Congress and witness tampering, remains firm. “Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes,” Mueller wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post. “He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.”
The op-ed amounts to Mueller’s staunchest defense of his investigation and his first public comments on the probe since he testified to Congress last year. The fact that he chose to speak up now only reflects that even though Trump’s decision to commute Stone’s 40-month sentence was expected, it “still represented a remarkable defiance of the norms of the Oval Office,” as the Los Angeles Times notes, pointing out that President Richard Nixon didn’t commute the sentences of his political allies during the Watergate investigation.
Mueller said he felt compelled to speak up 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.” Mueller explained that Stone became a “central figure” in the investigation for two main reasons: “He communicated in 2016 with individuals known to us to be Russian intelligence officers, and he claimed advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ release of emails stolen by those Russian intelligence officers.”
Mueller also made a particular point of pushing back against claims that the investigation was carried out the way it was due to animosity toward the president. “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. “The women and men who conducted these investigations and prosecutions acted with the highest integrity. Claims to the contrary are false.”
Mueller wrote the op-ed on a day in which Democrats—and even some Republicans—spoke up against the president’s decision and vowed to pursue investigations. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, characterized the commutation as an act of “staggering corruption.” Two Republican senators also spoke up. “Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president,” Sen. Mitt Romney wrote on Twitter. Sen. Patrick J. Toomey released a statement noting that while he understood “the frustration with the badly flawed Russia-collusion investigation,” commuting Stone’s sentence “is a mistake.”
Trump lashed out at Romney and Toomey late Saturday, characterizing them as “RINO’S,” or “Republican in Name Only.” “Do RINO’S Pat Toomey & Mitt Romney have any problem with the fact that we caught Obama, Biden, & Company illegally spying on my campaign?” Trump tweeted. “Do they care if Comey, McCabe, Page & her lover, Peter S, the whole group, ran rampant, wild & unchecked - lying & leaking all the way? NO!”
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