George W. Bush-appointed U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said on Thursday he isn’t taking William Barr’s word for it when it comes to the redactions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report. Instead, the judge said, he will review the redactions himself in his chambers (i.e., in camera).
Walton began by noting that plaintiffs Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and BuzzFeed’s Jason Leopold were each seeking an unredacted version of the Mueller Report through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Walton said he’s going to have to review whether AG Barr’s redactions really were legitimate:
Specifically, the Court must grant the plaintiffs’ motions to the extent they seek in camera review of the unredacted version of the Mueller Report and deny without prejudice the plaintiffs’ motions in all other respects. The Court further concludes that it must deny without prejudice the Department’s motion for summary judgment and directs the Department to submit the unredacted version of the Mueller Report to the Court for in camera review. If, after reviewing the unredacted version of the Mueller Report, the Court concludes that all of the information has been appropriately withheld under the claimed FOIA exemptions, it will issue a supplemental Memorandum Opinion and Order granting the Department’s motion for summary judgment on that ground and denying the plaintiffs’ cross- motions. On the other hand, if the Court concludes after its in camera review that any of the redacted information was inappropriately withheld, it will issue a supplemental Memorandum Opinion and Order that comports with that finding.
The judge’s memorandum opinion was not kind to Barr. Some excerpts follow.
The Court Has “Grave Concerns”
“The Court has grave concerns about the objectivity of the process that preceded the public release of the redacted version of the Mueller Report and its impacts on the Department’s subsequent justifications that its redactions of the Mueller Report are authorized by the FOIA.”
Only two days?
“On March 24, 2019, only two days after receiving the 381-page Mueller Report, Attorney General Barr represented that he was providing ‘a summary of [the Mueller Report’s] ‘principal conclusions.’”
Barr “distorted the findings in the Mueller Report”
“[…]and 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.””
Barr’s narrative is “clearly in some respects” at odds with the redacted version of the Mueller report
“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.”
Barr’s press conference and letter summarizing the Mueller report was concerning
“Attorney General Barr’s decision to not only conduct a press conference but also issue his April 18, 2019 letter immediately prior to releasing the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the public on April 18, 2019, also causes the Court concern.”
Barr “lacked candor” and lost credibility in Walton’s eyes
“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: I didn’t want to do this…. but I had to for the American people.
“Here, although it is with great consternation, 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 reaction to all of this was as expected.
This is STUNNING! Judge Walton is essentially saying he does not trust DOJ and AG Barr.
— Jason Leopold (@JasonLeopold) March 5, 2020
Wow. A federal judge says he needs to review the unredacted Mueller Report himself in camera to ensure that redactions were made properly, because AG Barr's handling of the report raises reasonable doubts that he did redactions in good faith. https://t.co/VJ3UNv8SGS pic.twitter.com/wO8KBZBSFR
— Sasha Samberg-Champion (@ssamcham) March 5, 2020
Unbelievable. A district court judge actually faults the Barr for the "speed" with which he released his summary of the Mueller report. https://t.co/O0doOm9JgV
— Andy Grewal (@AndyGrewal) March 5, 2020
WOW: Federal Judge Reggie Walton says he doesn’t trust DOJ to represent the need for redactions in the Mueller report and suggests Barr intentionally created a misleading summary to perpetuate a “one-sided” narrative. https://t.co/yIJnUsvYCB pic.twitter.com/jH3o0UtE4N
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) March 5, 2020
This is just not the type of thing you read from federal judges about the attorney general. The fact he felt the need to go this far shows some real concern about the rot inside DOJ. https://t.co/8FGRnsEKW4
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) March 5, 2020
I’ve never seen a federal judge say this about a sitting Attorney General. Ever. https://t.co/8E5UT83brQ
— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) March 5, 2020
In February, we learned that Judge Walton thought Barr’s DOJ was acting like “a banana republic” by targeting enemies of the president.
[Image via ABC News screengrab]