The Republican chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee says he will accede to Democrats’ request to call former special counsel Robert Mueller to testify, after he led a probe into allegations of collusion between United States President Donald Trump and Russian officials in the 2016 US presidential election.
The development came after Mueller offered a rare public defence of his investigation after Trump commuted the sentence of long-time friend Roger Stone, who faced a 40-month jail term after being convicted on seven felony charges flowing from the Mueller investigation.
“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.
Amid the Republican-lead probe, Democrats have renewed calls for Mueller to testify, with Senator Dianne Feinstein saying there are “at least 60 unanswered questions related to both Russian interference and obstruction of justice”.
“We believe Robert Mueller would be best-suited to answer these and other questions,” Feinstein was quoted as saying by the Hill news site.
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.
Democrats were outraged when Trump on Friday commuted the jail sentence of Stone. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the commutation a case of “staggering corruption”.
Apparently Mr. Mueller is willing – and also capable – of defending the Mueller investigation through an oped in the Washington Post.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 12, 2020
A White House statement 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 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 he was out to get Trump or his allies.
“He [Stone] remains a convicted felon and rightly so,” Mueller wrote, adding that prosecutors “acted with the highest integrity” and that “claims to the contrary are false.”