Judge orders DOJ to publish info redacted as privileged from Mueller report

Source: The Hill | September 30, 2020 | Harper Neidig

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to publish information redacted from the Mueller report that had been designated as privileged.

District Judge Reggie Walton said the Trump administration had failed to justify certain redactions from the report on the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The specific redactions he took issue with cover the decisionmaking process within former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team over whether to charge certain people with crimes during the probe.

“Based on the Court’s review of the unredacted version of the Mueller Report, the Court concludes that the Department has failed to satisfy its burden to demonstrate that the withheld material is protected by the deliberative process privilege,” Walton, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, wrote in his 40-page opinion.

The decision comes as a result of a pair of lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) brought by a journalist with BuzzFeed News and the Electronic Privacy Information Center that sought to have the full, unredacted report released to the public.

Walton on Wednesday ruled that the DOJ could continue to withhold material it had redacted under FOIA exemptions allowing agencies to conceal information that would compromise law enforcement investigations or compromise the privacy of witnesses.

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In March, Walton ordered the DOJ to give him access to an unredacted copy of the report so that he could review their withholdings. He excoriated the department and Attorney General William Barr at the time for misrepresenting the report’s conclusions before it was actually released.

“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 in March.

“These circumstances generally, and Attorney General Barr’s lack of candor specifically, call into question Attorney General Barr’s credibility” and the DOJ’s arguments in the FOIA lawsuit, the judge added.

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