In a rare public statement on Tuesday, Robert Mueller pushed back on criticism from a prosecutor who worked on his Russia investigation, who said the special counsel “could have done more” to hold Donald Trump to account.
“It is not surprising that members of the special counsel’s office did not always agree,” Mueller said, “but it is disappointing to hear criticism of our team based on incomplete information.”
Mueller did not mention Andrew Weissmann by name. Formerly a top federal prosecutor, Weissmann is now a professor at New York University. His memoir of the Russia investigation, Where Law Ends, was released on Tuesday.
Weissmann charges that in the investigation of Russian election interference and links between Trump and Moscow, Mueller and a senior deputy, Aaron Zebley, were cowed by the power of the presidency, too afraid to go after financial records or subpoena Trump family members.
He also says Trump was clearly guilty of obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense, in actions including the firing of James Comey, Mueller’s successor as FBI director.
Mueller outlined 11 instances of possible obstruction of justice. But he also cited a justice department standard that says a sitting president cannot be indicted and left further action to Congress.
In his statement, Mueller said his team had known “our work would be scrutinised from all sides”. He also defended Zebley, who Weissmann even compares to the civil war general George McClellan, who was notoriously reluctant to fight.
Zebley “was privy to the full scope of the investigation and all that was at issue”, Mueller said. “I selected him for that role because I knew from our 10 years working together that he is meticulous and principled. He was an invaluable and trusted counselor to me from start to finish.”
Mueller’s own mental fitness and participation in the investigation has been called into question.
“When important decisions had to be made,” he said on Tuesday, “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.”
Weissmann did not immediately comment.
The justice department has fired back at Weissmann and his book, revealing a court filing in which an FBI agent says the Mueller team was out to “get Trump”.
Mueller did not communicate directly with the public while he was special counsel, which lasted nearly two years. He did make a public statement in May 2019, criticizing attorney general William Barr’s handling of the report; before testifying in Congress two months later.
In July this year, Mueller wrote a column for the Washington Post in which he criticised Trump’s commutation of the sentence handed to Roger Stone, a longtime ally of the president, after Mueller indicted him.
Mueller initiated proceedings against 34 individuals – among them Stone, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, his deputy Rick Gates, lawyer Michael Cohen and national security adviser Michael Flynn, all convicted – and three Russian companies.