Judge slams Barr, orders review of Mueller report deletions

Source: Politico | March 5, 2020 | Josh Gerstein

The brutal opinion concludes that the attorney general skewed perceptions of the Trump-Russia review.

A federal judge excoriated Attorney General Bill Barr on Thursday for distorting the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller during his investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In a stinging 23-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton said Barr’s efforts to spin the report before its public release last year raised serious doubts about whether the Justice Department faithfully applied the law when deleting certain information from the publicly disclosed version.

“The Court cannot reconcile certain public representations made by Attorney General Barr with the findings in the Mueller Report,” wrote Walton, an appointee of President George W. Bush.

“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 added.

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“The Court has grave concerns about the objectivity of the process that preceded the public release of the redacted version of the Mueller Report,” the judge wrote. “A review of the redacted version of the Mueller Report by the Court results in the Court’s concurrence with Special Counsel Mueller’s assessment that Attorney General Barr distorted the findings in the Mueller Report.”

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Justice Department lawyers asked that the judge bless the deletions from the report based on a declaration submitted by a department official. But Walton declined to do so and instead demanded that the department provide him an unredacted copy of the report by March 30 so he could see exactly what was deleted.

“These circumstances generally, and Attorney General Barr’s lack of candor specifically, call into question Attorney General Barr’s credibility and in turn, the Department’s representation that ‘all of the information redacted from the version of the [Mueller] Report released by [ ] Attorney General [Barr]’ is protected from disclosure by its claimed FOIA exemptions,” Walton wrote.

Walton’s claim that Barr displayed a “lack of candor” is likely to reverberate loudly within the Justice Department. That phrase has unusual weight in federal law enforcement, where such an accusation can and does result in dismissal. “Lack of candor” is specifically what former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was accused of before being fired by Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, in 2018.

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