WASHINGTON, July 11 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump's longtime political confidant Roger Stone "remains a convicted felon" even though the president commuted his prison sentence, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller said Saturday, defending the legitimacy of an investigation led by him to uncover alleged Russian interference into the 2016 U.S. election that involved Stone.
In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post, 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."
Stone, also Trump's campaign adviser in the 2016 election, was convicted in November of all the seven felony counts he was charged with, including lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing an official proceeding.
Trump commuted Stone's 40-month prison sentence on Friday, four days before Stone 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."
The Mueller investigation found no evidence that the Trump campaign then conspired with Russia in tilting the election result Trump's way, one outcome seized by the president 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, adding 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 Stone 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," Trump said. Enditem