A Republican-appointed judge ordered the Department of Justice to turn over an unredacted copy of former special counsel Robert Mueller's report as he called into question Attorney General William Barr's credibility on the issue.
Judge Reggie Walton, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, took issue with Barr's "misleading" statements about the Mueller report. He gave the Justice Department until March 30 to turn over an unredacted version of the report, so he can judge whether the redactions were "tainted."
The decision came after BuzzFeed News and the civil liberties group Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking the unredacted report.
"The court cannot reconcile certain public representations made by Attorney General Barr with the findings in the Mueller report," Walton said. "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."
Walton added that Barr's "lack of candor" calls into question his "credibility," and "in turn, the department's representation that 'all of the information redacted from the version of the report released by . . . [Barr]' is protected from disclosure by its claimed FOIA exemptions."
Barr infamously issued a four-page summary of the 381-page report in March 2019, claiming that the investigation "did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities." But prosecutors made clear that "the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts."
Barr also wrote that he and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded that "that the evidence developed during the special counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense." But Mueller detailed 10 acts of possible obstruction of justice in his report, explaining that he would not offer an opinion because Justice Department guidelines precluded him from indicting a sitting president.
Days after Barr's summary was released, Mueller sent a letter to Barr noting that his summary "did not fully capture the context, nature and substance" of his findings.
Despite Mueller bringing his concerns to Barr's attention, the attorney general was accused of perjury after he falsely claimed to Congress that he did not know of any concerns about his summary from Mueller's team. Barr later held a press conference where he doubled down on his dubious claims about the report.
Walton said that both the summary and Barr's press conference "distorted the findings of the Mueller report," because Barr failed to indicate" that Mueller "identified multiple contacts" between the Trump campaign "and individuals with ties to the Russian government" and also failed to mention that Mueller "determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment" about potential obstruction of justice.
Walton said he was "troubled" about whether 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."
Walton requested an unredacted copy, so he can ensure that the redactions were not "self-serving" or "tainted."
"Adherence to the FOIA's objective of keeping the American public informed of what its government is up to," Walton concluded, "demands nothing less."