Federal judge questions Barr's credibility and orders review of Mueller report redactions
Photo of Judge Reggie B. Walton from the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit.
A federal judge said on Thursday he had "grave concerns about the objectivity" of Attorney General William Barr and his handling of the Muller report's release last year.
In his opinion, Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said he would conduct his own independent review of the unredacted version of the report to assess if the Department of Justice properly withheld portions from the public under the Freedom of Information Act.
“True to the oath that the undersigned took upon becoming a federal judge, and the need for the American public to have faith in the judicial process, considering the record in this case, the 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,” the judge wrote.
“Adherence to the FOIA’s objective of keeping the American public informed of what its government is up to demands nothing less.”
Walton pointed out in his decision that Robert Mueller, who was appointed special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, took exception to Barr’s summary of his findings, which the attorney general released only two days after receiving the 381-page report in March 2019.
After Barr announced that Mueller did not find that anyone involved with the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to influence the election and that President Donald Trump was not involved in any crimes related to election interference, Mueller said Barr “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of th[e] [Special Counsel’s] Office’s work and conclusions,” the opinion states.
In reviewing the redacted version of the Mueller report, Walton wrote that he concurred with “Special Counsel Mueller’s assessment that Attorney General Barr distorted the findings.”
The judge contended that Barr’s summary failed to indicate that Mueller identified several links between Trump campaign officials and people with ties to the Russian government or disclose to the public that Mueller decided it would be inappropriate to accuse Trump of obstruction of justice while he was still in office.
“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,” Walton wrote.
Walton also took issue with Barr’s decision to conduct a press conference and issue his summary of the Mueller report’s findings before releasing the redacted version of the report to the public.
“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,” the judge wrote.
Walton’s decision came in a lawsuit brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and BuzzFeed News reporter Jason Leopold in an attempt to gain more access to the Mueller report.
Walton has served on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia since October 2001, after he was appointed by President George W. Bush. He assumed senior status in 2015. Chief Justice John Roberts appointed Walton in 2007 to serve as a judge on the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is a 7-year appointment, and elevated him to the position of presiding judge of that court in February 2013.
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