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Judge criticizes Barr for "lack of candor" in summaries of Mueller report

Impeachment probe's court win for grand jury docs

A federal court in Washington ordered the Justice Department to submit the unredacted report of special counsel Robert Mueller for a private review to determine whether the redactions in the publicly available report were warranted. After the release of the redacted Mueller report last year, Buzzfeed and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed lawsuits against the Justice Department to force the release of the unredacted report under FOIA regulations.

In a scathing opinion from the D.C. District Court, Judge Reggie Walton criticized the Justice Department's handling of the report's release.

"The Court has grave concerns about the objectivity of the process that preceded the public release of the redacted version of the Mueller Report," Walton wrote. He said that he shares the plaintiff's concerns that the protocol leading up to the report's public release may have been "dubious."

Walton is also troubled by Attorney General Barr's "lack of candor" in both his public statements and his initial summaries of the Mueller Report, which the judge says "call into question Attorney General Barr's credibility."

He questioned whether the disparity between the public statements and the redacted report was purposeful, an attempt to influence the reception of the Mueller report:

The Court cannot reconcile certain public representations made by Attorney General Barr with the findings in the Mueller Report. 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.

On Barr's initial memo summarizing the Mueller report's finding before the full release, Walton wrote, "Barr's summary failed to indicate that Special Counsel Mueller 'identified multiple contacts—links' in the words of the Appointment Order—between Trump [c]ampaign officials and individuals with ties to the Russian government."

The judge also criticized Barr's early assertion that President Trump had not obstructed justice in the course of the Mueller investigation without disclosing that from the outset, Mueller "determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment."  

"Although Attorney General Barr can be commended for his effort to expeditiously release a summary of Special Counsel Mueller's principal conclusions in the public interest," Judge Walton opines, "the Court is troubled by his hurried release of his March 24, 2019 letter well in advance of when the redacted version of the Mueller Report was ultimately made available to the public."

For these reasons, Walton, a George W. Bush appointee and former FISA Court judge concluded 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." 

"[T]he Court will conduct an independent review of the unredacted version of the Mueller Report to determine whether it concurs with the Department's determination that the redactions of the Mueller Report are authorized by the FOIA exemptions upon which the Department relies," Walton wrote.

The Justice Department has not yet responded to CBS News' request for comment.

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