Former Russia special counsel Robert Mueller countered the criticism of a top lieutenant on the investigative team who has claimed that the inquiry into the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election did not go far enough to hold President Donald Trump accountable.
Mueller, in a rare public statement Tuesday, took issue with a book authored by former prosecutor Andrew Weissmann who said the team should have sought to force an interview with Trump and pursue a broader inquiry that included the president’s finances.
“It is not surprising that members of the Special Counsel’s Office did not always agree,” Mueller said in his first public statements since his testimony last year before a House committee. “But it is disappointing to hear criticism of our team based on incomplete information.”
“The office’s mission was to follow the facts and to act with integrity. That is what we did, knowing that our work would be scrutinized from all sides,” he said. “When important decisions had to be made, I made them. I did so as I have always done, without any interest in currying favor or fear of the consequences. I stand by those decisions and by the conclusions of our investigation.”
In recent interviews, including appearances Tuesday on MSNBC, Weissmann lamented that Mueller’s team too often allowed their actions to be influenced by the risk that the president might shut down the investigation as it drew closer to him.
Weissmann said Tuesday he particularly regretted that the team did not push more aggressively to seek access to the president’s tax returns, after the New York Times disclosed Sunday that it had obtained years of Trump’s tax documents, showing hundreds of millions of dollars in looming debts.
Asked Tuesday on MSNBC whether the debts represented a national security risk, Weissmann said: “I don’t know.”
The longtime Justice Department prosecutor said that the Russia team “absolutely” should have pursued the line of inquiry.
But Mueller singled his deputy, Aaron Zebley, as the person who helped guide his management of the investigation.
Mueller said Zebly was “privy to the full scope of the investigation and all that was at issue.”
“I selected him for that role because I knew from our ten years working together that he is meticulous and principled,” Mueller said. “He was an invaluable and trusted counselor to me from start to finish.”
The disagreement broke into the open Tuesday afternoon just hours before Trump was set to debate Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the first face-to-face encounter of the 2020 campaign.