Former Russia special counsel Robert Mueller pushed back against President Donald Trump on Saturday, defending the prosecution of Roger Stone and the larger investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying the flamboyant political operative was "prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes."
"He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so," Mueller said in a column published Saturday in The Washington Post.
Mueller's remarks, prompted by Trump's commutation of Stone's 40-month prison sentence Friday, are the first since he testified before a House committee nearly a year ago after his team brought charges against at least a half-dozen former Trump aides during his campaign and after he took office.
'Abandoned the rule of law': Lawmakers react to Trump granting clemency to Roger Stone
Stone was the last person charged by the Mueller team during the nearly two-year Russia investigation.
"Russia’s actions were a threat to America’s democracy," Mueller wrote. "It was critical that they be investigated and understood."
Mueller said the FBI had evidence that the Russians signaled to a Trump campaign adviser that they could assist the campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
"Stone became a central figure in our investigation for two key reasons: 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," Mueller wrote.
"We also identified numerous links between the Russian government and Trump campaign personnel – Stone among them. We did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its activities," the former special counsel wrote, reasserting the team's conclusions. "The investigation did, however, establish that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome. It also established that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts."
Mueller offered a detailed accounting of investigators' focus on Stone by federal prosecutors and Congress.
"He lied by denying he had communicated with the Trump campaign about the timing of WikiLeaks’ releases," Mueller wrote. "He in fact updated senior campaign officials repeatedly about WikiLeaks. And he tampered with a witness, imploring him to stonewall Congress.
"The jury ultimately convicted Stone of obstruction of a congressional investigation, five counts of making false statements to Congress and tampering with a witness," Mueller wrote. "Because his sentence has been commuted, he will not go to prison. But his conviction stands."
Mueller said the "essential question" of whether those efforts involved the Trump campaign required investigation.
"When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable," Mueller said. "It may ultimately impede those efforts.
"We made every decision in Stone’s case, as in all our cases, based solely on the facts and the law and in accordance with the rule of law. The women and men who conducted these investigations and prosecutions acted with the highest integrity. Claims to the contrary are false," he said.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Saturday night, "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.”
Democrats and some Republicans, including Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, criticized Trump's intervention.
"Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president," Romney wrote on Twitter Saturday morning.
Trump granted Stone clemency days before he was to report to a Georgia prison to serve his sentence.
Trump has pardoned allies before, but Stone is the first individual directly connected to Trump's campaign to receive presidential clemency.
A statement issued by the White House on Friday called Stone "a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency," claiming that prosecutors made "process-based charges" in lieu of "finding evidence of collusion with Russia."
Romney was the only Republican senator who voted to convict Trump on an impeachment charge in February, becoming the first senator ever to vote against his own party's president in an impeachment trial.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Robert Mueller challenges President Trump: Stone 'committed crimes'