March 29, 2019
More than three in four Americans (77%), including majorities of both Republicans and Democrats, think that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report should be released to the public, based on findings of a survey conducted by CBS News and released on March 28.
However, after summarizing the 300-plus-page report in fewer than 1,000 words and coming to his own conclusion on obstruction of justice charges, Attorney General William Barr now has said he intends to hand the document over to the president—instead of to Congress and the American public.
Indeed, according to a story by Business Insider, Barr is taking the peculiar and unheard of step of giving precedence to the sitting president to review and redact a document summarizing an investigation into his own administration’s culpability in Russian interference into the U.S. elections and obstruction of justice.
Typically, the news outlet notes, when the government obtains information that can be protected under presidential privilege claims, it sets up a separate filter team to separate out that information before prosecutors see it. Justice Department veterans said they were surprised Barr chose to forego that option and send the report directly to the White House.
Over a dozen current and former White House officials have given testimony and turned over documents to Mueller, and legal scholars say President Donald Trump’s team could theoretically assert executive privilege over all that information.
The dilemma could put Barr in a difficult position, one former federal prosecutor pointed out to the news outlet: “Say Barr sends this report to the White House and tells them to pull out anything they think is privileged. What if the White House sent back one-third of the report and redacted the rest? What does Barr do with that? Does he just accept it and only release the parts that weren’t redacted, or if he feels like the White House is wrong or abusing their power, does he challenge them?”
“There’s nothing routine about this,” Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who worked at the Justice Department when Barr was acting attorney general in the 1990s, told Business Insider. “There’s nowhere to look for a precedent to what Barr’s planning on doing here, because there’s never been a report issued under the special counsel statute Mueller’s operating under.”
“I’m not sure why Barr felt this was the appropriate way to go about handling potentially privileged information,” Cotter said, adding, “You shouldn’t be able to use it in a way that gives you an unfair advantage,” Cotter said.
Research contact: @businessinsider