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