Washington (AFP) - The Republican chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee said Sunday that he will accede to Democrats' request to call former special counsel Robert Mueller to testify, after Mueller offered a rare public defense of the Russia collusion probe he led.
"Apparently Mr. Mueller is willing - and also capable - of defending the Mueller investigation through an op-ed in the Washington Post," Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement.
Though the committee's Republican majority had previously said it was time to move on, Graham said the Democrats' repeated requests for Mueller to appear would now be granted.
It was unclear what Graham's motivations were, or indeed whether Mueller -- who has maintained silence on the matter since testifying reluctantly and in measured terms before Congress last July -- would necessarily appear.
Graham, once sharply critical of Donald Trump, is now considered a close confidant of the president.
Democrats were outraged when Trump on Friday commuted the jail sentence of a friend and political ally, Roger Stone, who faced a 40-month jail term after being convicted on seven felony charges flowing from the Mueller investigation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the commutation a case of "staggering corruption."
Only a few Republicans have spoken up against Trump's move.
A White House statement Friday about the Stone matter denounced the Mueller probe as part of a "witch hunt" by "overzealous prosecutors" looking into what Trump has often called the "Russia hoax."
The two-year-long Mueller investigation did not establish collusion between Trump's campaign team and Russia. But Mueller said it did establish that Moscow had intervened in efforts to boost Trump's election chances; and he pointedly said it did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice.
The latest round of White House criticism apparently prompted Mueller to break his longtime silence.
In The Washington Post op-ed published Sunday, he defended his probe as being of "paramount importance," dismissing White House claims that he was out to get Trump or his allies.
"Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes," including lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks and with "individuals known to us to be Russian intelligence officers."
"He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so," Mueller wrote.
Prosecutors, he added, "acted with the highest integrity. Claims to the contrary are false."