A group that successfully got a federal judge to demand an unredacted version of the Mueller Report from the Department of Justice has nudged the judge to do some “essential” reading.
There’s been a lot debate (and increasing unrest) over the course of the coronavirus pandemic on what qualifies as “essential.” The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) maintains that George W. Bush-appointed U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton should be checking the DOJ’s redactions of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s work and checking them twice, rather than delaying any further the review of the massive document in camera (in his chambers).
Background: you may recall that in early March Walton slammed Attorney General William Barr’s credibility, going so far as to say Barr “distorted” the findings of the Mueller report and inappropriately went out of his way to control the narrative.
In late March, Walton obtained an unredacted copy of the Mueller Report. At the same time, Walton noted that the pandemic had thrown a wrench into the matter [emphasis ours]:
Consistent with the [DOJ’s] Notice of Submission of Documents for In Camera Review, the Court has received the unredacted version of the report regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 United Stats presidential election (the “Mueller Report”). However, in light of the Chief Judge Howell’s March 16, 2020 Order Regard Court Operations in Exigent Circumstances Created by the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Court’s review of the unredacted version of the Mueller Report is unable to occur until the Court resumes its normal operations on April 20, 2020, unless the Court’s normal operations are further suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
EPIC argued on Friday that the above italicized caveat from Walton of possible additional delay beyond April 20 should not be. They asked that the in camera review of the Mueller Report begin on or around three days from now because “[t]ime is of the essence in this case.”
“EPIC respectfully submits that in camera review of the Mueller Report is an essential function warranting the Court’s prompt attention,” the five-page Friday filing said. EPIC then noted Judge Walton’s words that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is “vital” to a democratic society, precisely because it allows citizens to evaluate and criticize the decision the government makes:
As this Court recently stated, the FOIA “‘give[s] citizens access to the information on the basis of which government agencies make their decisions, thereby equipping the populace to evaluate and criticize those decisions[.]’” Mem. Op. 21 (quoting McGehee v. Cent. Intelligence Agency, 697 F.2d 1095, 1108–09 (D.C. Cir. 1983)). “[The FOIA] ensure[s] an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed[.]” Id. (quoting NLRB v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co., 437 U.S. 214, 224 (1978)).
Time is of the essence in this case. It is vital that the American citizenry know the full extent of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election before casting their votes in the 2020 presidential election, now just 200 days away. And it is vital that there be judicial review of the DOJ’s asserted exemptions that prevent public release of relevant information contained within the Mueller Report.
“EPIC respectfully urges the Court to begin in camera review of the Mueller Report on or around April 20, 2020,” the group concluded.
[Images via Win McNamee/Getty Images, Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images]
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