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Mueller Defends Russia Probe           07/12 10:57

   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.

   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 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 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 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.

   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 that 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.

   ____

   Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

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