Federal Judge: Barr’s Handling of Mueller Report Lacked Candor and Calls His Credibility Into Question
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton has issued an eye-opening order today directly calling into question the credibility of Attorney General William Barr, based on Barr’s misleading summary of the Mueller report.
That Barr spun the report in a dishonest fashion is not news, of course. On May 3, 2019, I wrote a long post detailing how Barr had misled the American people about the contents of the Mueller report. My post cited and concurred with another detailed article by Benjamin Wittes on the same topic.
But to hear these things spoken by a federal judge, in a published order, is another level of magnitude.
Judge Walton is hearing FOIA cases brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center as well as by Buzzfeed and our old unreliable friend Jason Leopold. Today Judge Walton ruled that he will independently review whether the redactions in the report are proper. Judge Walton explains that when the government seeks to keep information secret and assures the court that the secrecy is for legitimate reasons, a judge will conduct in camera review of the material (review of material privately in the judge’s chambers) when there is evidence — or at least a suspicion in the judge’s mind — that the government has acted in bad faith, such that the judge cannot completely rely on the government’s representations. Judge Walton says that is the case with the redactions in the Mueller report, and sets forth in detail why he can’t rely on Barr’s representations that the redactions are for legitimate reasons:
The Court has grave concerns about the objectivity of the process that preceded the public release of the redacted version of the Mueller Report and its impacts on the Department’s subsequent justifications that its redactions of the Mueller Report are authorized by the FOIA.
. . . .
The speed by which Attorney General Barr released to the public the summary of Special Counsel Mueller’s principal conclusions, coupled with the fact that Attorney General Barr failed to provide a thorough representation of the findings set forth in the Mueller Report, causes the Court to question whether Attorney General Barr’s intent was 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. Attorney General Barr’s decision to not only conduct a press conference but also issue his April 18, 2019 letter immediately prior to releasing the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the public on April 18, 2019, also causes the Court concern.
. . . .
[T]he Court has reviewed the redacted version of the Mueller Report, Attorney General Barr’s representations made during his April 18, 2019 press conference, and Attorney General Barr’s April 18, 2019 letter. And, the Court cannot reconcile certain public representations made by Attorney General Barr with the findings in the Mueller Report. The inconsistencies between Attorney General Barr’s statements, made at a time when the public did not have access to the redacted version of the Mueller Report to assess the veracity of his statements, and portions of the redacted version of the Mueller Report that conflict with those statements cause the Court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump despite certain findings in the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the contrary.
These circumstances generally, and Attorney General Barr’s lack of candor specifically, call into question Attorney General Barr’s credibility and in turn, the Department’s representation that “all of the information redacted from the version of the [Mueller] Report released by [ ] Attorney General [Barr]” is protected from disclosure by its claimed FOIA exemptions.”
Wow. When you are Attorney General Barr, one phrase you don’t like to see in a federal judge’s published opinion is “Attorney General Barr’s lack of candor.”
Judge Walton concludes:
[T]he Court must conclude that the actions of Attorney General Barr and his representations about the Mueller Report preclude the Court’s acceptance of the validity of the Department’s redactions without its independent verification.”
That is just a stunning rebuke of the nation’s highest law enforcement official by a federal judge. (In case you are tempted to scream Obama Judge! or Unqualified Judge! please note that Judge Walton was appointed by George W. Bush and served for a time as the Presiding Judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.)