Roger Stone "remains a convicted felon" even though US President Donald Trump commuted his prison sentence, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller said, defending the legitimacy of a probe to uncover alleged Russian interference into the 2016 US election.
In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Saturday, Mueller wrote to respond "to specific claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office", saying that the Trump ally "was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so", reports Xinhua news agency
Charged With Several Felony Counts
Stone, also Trump's campaign adviser in the 2016 election, was convicted last November of all the seven felony counts he was charged with, including lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing an official proceeding.
On Friday, Trump commuted Stone's 40-month prison sentence, four days before the latter was due to report to prison on July 14. Stone has maintained his innocence and tried to appeal his conviction, most recently pursuing a pardon or a commutation, citing the risk of contracting the coronavirus while in jail.
Mueller said Stone "became a central figure" in the Russia probe because 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".
Numerous Links Between Trump Campaign and Russian Government
The Mueller investigation found no evidence that the Trump campaign then conspired with Russia in tilting the election result in the President's favor, one outcome seized by him to grant clemency to Stone.
However, the investigation, which dogged Trump's first two years in office, "identified numerous links between the Russian government and Trump campaign personnel -- Stone among them", Mueller wrote in the op-ed. He added that it "also established that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts".
In his statement announcing the commutation, Trump claimed that Stone was "a victim of the Russia Hoax", and that his long-time aide should not be pursued because prosecutors failed to find collusion-related evidence on the campaign side. "The simple fact is that if the Special Counsel had not been pursuing an absolutely baseless investigation, Mr. Stone would not be facing time in prison," the President added.