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Mueller defends Russia probe amid criticism from top prosecutor

In a rare public statement, the former special counsel said he was disappointed to “hear criticism of our team based on incomplete information.”
Former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Intelligence Committee about his report on Russian election interference on July 24, 2019.Andrew Harnik / AP file

In a rare public statement, special counsel Robert Mueller pushed back Tuesday against criticism from one of his former prosecutors in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The statement from Mueller was an apparent response to a much-anticipated book published Tuesday by longtime federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann. The book, titled “Where the Law Ends,” offers a stinging assessment of the investigation, portraying Mueller and his top deputy, Aaron Zebley, as being too timid in their approach to probing President Donald Trump.

"It is not surprising that members of the Special Counsel’s Office did not always agree, but it is disappointing to hear criticism of our team based on incomplete information,” Mueller said.

“My deputy, Aaron Zebley, was privy to the full scope of the investigation and all that was at issue. I selected him for that role because I knew from our 10 years working together that he is meticulous and principled. He was an invaluable and trusted counselor to me from start to finish.”

Mueller went on to say that his office’s mission was to “follow the facts and act with integrity.”

“That is what we did, knowing that our work would be scrutinized from all sides,” Mueller said.

“When important decisions had to be made, I made them. I did so as I have always done, without any interest in currying favor or fear of the consequences. I stand by those decisions and by the conclusions of our investigation.”

In a Tuesday afternoon interview with MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, Weissmann said he doesn’t dispute much of what Mueller said in his statement.

“I, too, think that he operated completely out of integrity and am grateful to the colleagues I had there,” Weissmann said.

But Weissmann said he thought it was more important to write a book that provided the American public with a critical assessment of the special counsel investigation from an insider’s perspective.

“It would have been easy to write a book that said everything we did was right and everything we did responded to the onslaught coming from the White house or the attorney general,” Weissman said.

“But I was trying to write something for the American public and, frankly, for the historical record, and to try to be as candid as possible about what we did right and what we could have done better.”

Mueller released a 448-page report in April 2019, capping an investigation that spanned nearly two years and resulted in 34 indictments, including against several members of the Trump campaign.

In his report, Mueller extensively detailed Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, multiple contacts between the Trump campaign and associates with Russians, and Trump's efforts to quash the probe.

Mueller wrote that the evidence he reviewed was not enough to establish a Trump-Russia conspiracy. But on the question of whether the president obstructed justice, Mueller said he could not come to a traditional prosecutorial decision.

In his book, Weissmann — who led a sub-unit of prosecutors that investigated former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, leading to multiple charges and a seven-year prison sentence — said Mueller and Zebley shied away from pursuing a financial investigation into the president.

“As proud as I am of the work our team did — the unprecedented number of people indicted and convicted and in record speed for any similar investigation — I know the hard answer to that simple question: We could have done more,” Weissmann wrote.

The longtime federal prosecutor and former head of the Justice Department’s criminal fraud section wrote that he was dismayed by the decision against subpoenaing the president’s financial information and his taxes. He attributed it largely to repeated threats that Trump would fire Mueller and an aversion to directly challenging the president.

Weissmann wrote that he believed there were a number of “threads to pull on” when it came to Trump’s finances including, “tax fraud, foreign bribery, election fraud, bank fraud.”

But “our office was put on notice by the White House, early on, that engaging in such a broad-based financial investigation might lead to our firing,” Weissmann wrote.