The Justice Department (DOJ) has told a court on Friday that it is considering whether to release a less-redacted version of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The department said in a three-page filing to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that it was in the process of reevaluating whether the redactions related to Roger Stone, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, should be made public since Stone’s criminal case has concluded.
“Following the sentencing of Mr. Stone and the lifting of the media communications order in United States v. Roger Stone, Jr. … the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) concluded that reprocessing the Mueller Report is appropriate,” the court filing stated (pdf).
When the Mueller report was released in April 2019, parts of it were redacted in order to protect grand-jury secrecy or to comply with judicial orders aimed at protecting the release of sensitive discovery information or to prevent the disclosure of information related to ongoing investigations and criminal proceedings including the Stone case.
If the department deems it appropriate after the review, it will release an updated version of the Mueller report on June 19, the DOJ told the court.
The DOJ’s filing is part of a freedom of information lawsuit brought by BuzzFeed, its investigative journalist Jason Leopold, and Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a nonprofit research center. EPIC said in a June 24, 2019, court filing (pdf) that the DOJ’s handling of the report’s release provides “tangible evidence of agency bad faith.”
In March, the department turned over an unredacted version of the Mueller report to the judge in the case, Judge Reggie Walton, who had demanded to see the report.
Walton, an appointee of President George W. Bush, had several complaints about Attorney General William Barr’s handling of the release of the Mueller report. He pointed out that there were inconsistencies between the report and Barr’s summary of investigative findings he provided prior to the report’s release.
“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 (pdf).
He also raised concerns that Barr’s statements prior to the report’s release were made in an attempt to “influence public discourse about the Mueller report in favor of President Trump.”
“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 wrote.
DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec at the time pushed back on Walton’s opinion, saying that the court’s assertions were “contrary to the facts.”
“In response to FOIA requests, the entire report was then reviewed by career attorneys, including different career attorneys with expertise in FOIA cases—a process in which the Attorney General played no role. There is no basis to question the work or good faith of any of these career Department lawyers,” she said in a statement.
Stone was sentenced on Feb. 20 to three years and four months in prison for several charges, including lying to a congressional committee that was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.