A federal judge has ordered Attorney General William Barr to show him the unredacted version of the Mueller report, which summarized the results of an investigation into allegations of collusion between Russia and the 2016 campaign of President Donald Trump.
Washington, D.C., District Judge Reggie Walton said in a March 5 opinion that Barr’s handling of the report’s release prompted doubts about whether the redactions in the public version of the report are justified (pdf).
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has until March 30 to provide the unredacted version to Walton for an “in camera review,” which means the judge will have a chance to privately look through the document.
The order stems from a freedom of information lawsuit brought by Buzzfeed, its investigative journalist Jason Leopold, and Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a privacy non-profit. EPIC said in a June 24 court filing (pdf) that the DOJ’s handling of the report’s release provides “tangible evidence of agency bad faith.”
DOJ lawyers argued that the plaintiffs only speculated the redactions were made in “bad faith.”
However, Walton retorted that not “even tentative finding of bad faith” is necessary. Mere “uneasiness” or “a doubt” on the judge’s part is enough to demand in camera review before making judgement.
“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,” Walton said.
Report vs Summary
Regarding the inconsistencies Walton saw between the report and the summary, he gave two examples.
“Barr’s summary failed to indicate that Special Counsel Mueller ‘identified multiple Contacts … between Trump [c]ampaign officials and individuals with ties to the Russian government,’” he said, noting that Mueller was appointed, among other things, to examine such Trump-Russia “links.”
Having contacts with people tied to Moscow is not by itself illegal. It’s been widely reported since 2016 that Trump campaign associates had such contacts.
Walton further said that “Mueller only concluded that the investigation did not establish that ‘these contacts involved or resulted in coordination or a conspiracy with the Trump [c]ampaign and Russia’ … because coordination … ‘does not have a settled definition in federal criminal law.'”
This doesn’t seem to be quite what the report says. Mueller, in fact, worked out his own definition of “coordination.” Based on that definition his probe didn’t establish that any Trump-Russia coordination occurred (pdf).
On the question of whether Trump obstructed justice, Barr’s summary said that the report doesn’t make a conclusion “one way or the other” and “leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction.”
Walton complained that Barr didn’t mention that one of the “difficult issues” Mueller encountered was a longstanding Justice Department policy that a sitting president can’t be indicted.
However, Mueller clarified in his congressional testimony that it was “not the correct way to say” that he didn’t charge Trump for obstruction because of the policy.
“As we say in the report and as I said in the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime,” he said.
Barr previously said that the policy would only stop Mueller from indicting Trump, but that he “could’ve reached a decision” on whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr added that Mueller “had his reasons” for not making a conclusion, but declined to explain further.
In absence of a conclusion from Mueller, Barr and his then-deputy, Rod Rosenstein, made their own conclusion, that the evidence “is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
“Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president,” Barr said in the March 24, 2019, summary (pdf).