Less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump commuted the prison sentence of former campaign aide Roger Stone, former Department of Justice special counsel Robert S. Mueller III defended the investigation into Russian meddling and said Stone "remains a convicted felon, and rightfully so."
Mueller, who led the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, pushed back against claims that the inquiry was a "witch hunt." In an editorial published by the Washington Post, Mueller said he felt "compelled to respond both to broad claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives were improper."
"The Russia investigation was of paramount importance," Mueller wrote. "Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so."
The White House on Saturday doubled down on its criticism of the investigation. Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a statement that Mueller "wasted taxpayer dollars trying to undo an election."
"Mr. Mueller should keep his promise to the American people and let the report, which fully exonerated the President, stand instead of pontificating in the editorial pages with more spin," he said.
Trump on Friday commuted Stone's 40-month sentence just days before the 67-year-old was scheduled to report to federal prison. The move drew immediate backlash from Democrats who accused the president of cronyism and political favoritism.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Trump behaved "like a Mafia boss" by commuting Stone's sentence while presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said it was another example of Trump acting like he's above the law.
Stone, on the other hand, celebrated the commutation by thanking the president for sparing him prison time during the coronavirus pandemic. He also slammed prosecutors, calling the investigation a "witch hunt" and a "nightmare."
Mueller, who has largely remained silent since the conclusion of the investigation, said "Russia’s actions were a threat to America’s democracy."
"It was critical that they be investigated and understood," he wrote in the Washington Post.
"When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable. It may ultimately impede those efforts," he added.
Also on Saturday, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, criticized Trump’s decision to commute Stone's sentence, calling it “unprecedented, historic corruption.”