Posts tagged with "Electronic Privacy Information Center"

Federal judge challenges Barr’s interpretation and oversight of Mueller report

March 9, 2020

A federal judge on Thursday, March 5, accused Attorney General Bill Barr of a lack of candor and questioned his credibility in his handling of the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report last year, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who was appointed to the bench in 2001 by President George W. Bush, posed questions about Barr’s interpretation and treatment of the report in a ruling on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit that sought to obtain the redacted portions of the report.

According to the Journal, the judge noted in his ruling that there may be reason to believe that Barr, in summarizing the report weeks before a redacted version was released to the public, intended “to create a one-sided narrative about the Mueller Report—a narrative that is clearly in some respects substantively at odds with the redacted version of the Mueller Report.”

Judge Walton went on to say that he would review the full Mueller report, including the material not publicly released, to give Americans confidence that the Justice Department’s redactions were made for good cause. The decision opens the door to additional parts of the Mueller report being unredacted and made public.

The judge’s ruling came in a Freedom of Information Act case brought by BuzzFeed journalist Jason Leopold and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a group that advocates on civil liberties and privacy issues. Both sought access to the special counsel report under the act, which provides for public access to government information.

Much of the 448-page report was released to the public in April 2019, although several categories of information were redacted.

Democrats in Congress have been seeking access to the fuller report, as have journalists and transparency activists, the Journal stated.

Judge Walton criticized the way in which the attorney general had rolled out the report. Barr issued a letter that critics say inaccurately summarized the central findings of the report in the weeks between when it was wrapped up and when it was made available to the public in redacted form.

The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Wall Street Journal. The department has previously defended its handling of the release of the report, saying it contained substantial amounts of information that required redaction.

The report, which investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election, found extensive efforts by Moscow to boost the candidacy of Donald Trump but didn’t find collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. It also investigated whether President Trump obstructed the investigation.

On the obstruction issue, Barr’s letter said the special counsel investigation failed to establish that President Trump was involved in a crime. Mueller wrote in his report that he didn’t reach a conclusion one way or another, leaving it to Barr and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to decide no crime had been committed.

Mueller later complained in a letter to the attorney general that the summary “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this office’s work and conclusions.”

The judge said there were “inconsistencies” in the attorney general’s statements that required him to apply additional judicial scrutiny to the request from journalists and activists to possibly unredact more of the report.

Research contact: @WSJ

Senior federal judge challenges AG Barr’s handling of Mueller findings

August 7, 2019

A senior federal judge pressed Department of Justice attorneys in a Washington, D.C., courtroom on August 5 to explain why the American public shouldn’t be allowed to see redacted portions of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference into the 2016 elections—suggesting that he might be willing to consider releasing at least some of the restricted information, The Hill reported.

Judge Reggie Walton, who was appointed to the bench in 2001 by President George W. Bush, posed the questions during a hearing on a couple of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits seeking the redacted portions of the report.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and BuzzFeed News reporter Jason Leopold filed the lawsuits earlier this year. The cases have since been consolidated, and attorneys for each party split the arguments during Monday’s hearing, The Hill said.

During more than two hours of arguments, Judge Walton voiced his concerns—not only about the redactions, but about the conduct of Attorney General Bill Barr immediately following the release of the report.

I do have some concerns, because it seems to me difficult to reconcile the contents of the Mueller report and statements made by the attorney general [about the report],” Walton said of Barr’s four-page summary of the Mueller report—which asserted there had been “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia; and no obstruction of justice.

“It’d seem to be inconsistent with what the report itself said,” Walton said, adding that Barr’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of the report.

Mueller has since stated that his office did not investigate collusion but instead whether any Trump campaign officials conspired with Russians in 2016. And the former special counsel has repeatedly stated that his report does not exonerate President Donald Trump.

DOJ lawyer Courtney Enlow pushed back—saying that Barr was not required to release the report under the special counsel regulations, but did so anyway. She said the attorney general’s actions were in “good faith.”

However,attorneys for those seeking the unredacted portions of the report urged the judge to read the disputed redactions privately so that he could review them and determine if any of the information was already publicly available and no longer needed to redacted.

Enlow argued that rulings in previous FOIA cases mean that the administration doesn’t necessarily have to make that information publicly available.

However, Walton appeared skeptical. At several times throughout the hearing, he noted the high level of public interest in the redacted versions of the documents.

Mathew Topic, who was arguing on behalf of Leopold in court, also noted that releasing more details of the report could help resolve disputes about the origins of the Mueller investigation.

Topic pointed to Trump repeatedly referring to the probe as a politically motivated “witch hunt” and said that making the investigators’ findings fully available could help affirm or disprove those claims, The Hill reported.

Among the redacted information in the report being sought in these cases is grand jury information. The House Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (New York), also filed an application in court last week seeking the grand jury materials.

But Enlow, in arguing that Walton should not make the information public, cited an opinion from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals handed down earlier this year that found a court doesn’t have the inherent authority to release grand jury materials.

Judge Walton did not provide a date for when his decision might be disclosed, saying that he is facing a “heavy” caseload at the moment. But he noted the high level of public interest in the case—and the inevitable prospect that whatever ruling he issues will be appealed—in saying he will work to make a decision soon.

Research contact: @thehill