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Judge Smacks Barr Over Mueller Report Distortions

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled in a scathing decision on Thursday that Attorney General Bill Barr's handling of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report demonstrates that his department cannot be trusted to faithfully redact the document. Therefore, his court will review the redactions itself to ensure that they didn't improperly conceal information from the public.

Judge Walton was critical — as many observers were at the time — of a letter Barr sent purporting to summarize the conclusions of the Mueller report weeks before the document was officially made public:

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.

He noted that even Mueller himself wrote a letter to Barr, expressing the worry that the letter "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of th[e] [Special Counsel's] Office's work and conclusions."

"[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," the judge wrote.

Specifically, Walton faulted Barr for misleading the public about two key aspects of the report. First, though Barr said Mueller did not establish that Trump was involved in the 2016 Russian election interference, the special counsel did find numerous "links" between the campaign and Russia and only did not find that the evidence showed these links to amount to a criminal conspiracy. Second, Barr did not convey that Mueller determined not to make a prosecutorial decision on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice. Mueller listed extensive analysis and evidence suggesting that, in fact, Trump had committed such a crime; and he said Congress or a future prosecutor could potentially try Trump for this conduct.

The judge continued:

[The] Court has reviewed the redacted version of the Mueller Report, Attorney General Barr's representations made during his April 18, 2019 press conference, and Attorney General Barr's April 18, 2019 letter. And, the Court cannot reconcile certain public representations made by Attorney General Barr with the findings in the Mueller Report.

Because of these discrepancies, the judge wrote, it appears Barr may have "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 case was brought by Jason Leopold of BuzzFeed News and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who sought to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the redacted information in the Mueller Report.

The decision concluded:

[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. Adherence to the FOIA's objective of keeping the American public informed of what its government is up to demands nothing less. Accordingly, the 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.

In other words, Barr proved his Justice Department cannot be trusted. Elsewhere, Walton said Barr showed a "lack of candor." So the court itself will take the responsibility of ensuring that the Mueller report redactions comply with the law.

It's an extraordinary decision for a judge to make — and one that should signal just how much the Trump administration has warped the federal government.

More Than 1100 Former DOJ Officials Demand Barr’s Ouster

More than 1,100 former Justice Department employees have signed an online petition calling on Attorney General William Barr to resign, saying his interference in criminal matters for Donald Trump’s friends and allies poses a “grave threat” to the country.

“In this nation, we are all equal before the law. A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President,” the petition reads.

It continues, “Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.”

The petition comes after Barr apparently intervened in the sentencing of longtime Trump ally Roger Stone, overruling the career prosecutors on the case to recommend the judge give him a lighter sentence. Stone was convicted in November on seven counts of obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and lying to Congress, actions discovered during the course of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year-long Russia probe.

The announcement that Stone’s recommended prison time had been changed took place hours after Trump tweeted that he thought the proposed nine-year sentence was “unfair,” even though that sentence followed federal guidelines.

Barr’s apparent interference in the case led the four top prosecutors who secured his conviction to resign in protest.

The signatories of the petition applaud those resignations.

“We support and commend the four career prosecutors who upheld their oaths and stood up for the Department’s independence by withdrawing from the Stone case and/or resigning from the Department,” the petition reads. “Our simple message to them is that we — and millions of other Americans — stand with them.”

Trump, for his part, has claimed the “legal right” to intervene in criminal matters relating to his friends — despite the fact that this violates the precedent of an independent DOJ.

Judge Reggie Walton — who was appointed by former President George W. Bush — said last week that Trump’s targeting of perceived political enemies such as former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, whom Trump has claimed was part of a broader attempt to undermine his presidency from within the Justice Department, is something that happens in a “banana republic.

The DOJ on Friday closed its investigation into McCabe and announced it would not pursue criminal charges over claims he leaked information about a confidential case to media outlets.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Judge Rebuked DOJ Over Trump’s Unrelenting Assault On McCabe

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton gave the Justice Department a pointed rebuke last September because of President Donald Trump’s relentless attacks on former Deputy FBI Director Andy McCabe, new documents released on Friday showed.

At the time, McCabe was the target of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department for charges that arose regarding his apparent lies during an inspector general investigation. But as was also revealed on Friday, the department has now determined that it will not pursue charges against McCabe in this matter.

Judge Walton was overseeing a related Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the non-profit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics Washington. In September, the Justice Department was seeking delays in the case because it hadn’t yet decided how it would handle the potential charges against McCabe. But Walton didn’t think it was appropriate to drag out the process.

Assistant U.S. Attorney J.P. Cooney told the court that the situation surrounding the case had been “exceedingly difficult.”

He didn’t say why it was so difficult, but it’s not hard to imagine why. Trump has publicly lambasted McCabe for years, and he clearly wanted him prosecuted. Though the potential charges are entirely unrelated, Trump’s animus at McCabe stems from the former deputy director’s role leading the Russia investigation.

Judge Walton’s comments, which had previously been sealed, reflected broader concerns in the public and the media that Trump’s efforts to publicly pressure the Justice Department are corrupting the rule of law.

“I fully appreciate the complexity of the assessment, especially, unfortunately, to be candid in light of the way by the White House, which I don’t think top executive officers should be doing,” Walton said. “Because it does I think really complicate your ability to get a fair adjudication from the government’s perspective.”

He continued: “Because the public is listening to what’s going on, and I don’t think people like the fact that you got somebody at the top basically trying to dictate whether somebody should be prosecuted. I just think it’s a banana republic when we go down that road and we have those type of statements being made that are conceivably even if not influencing the ultimate decision, I think there are a lot of people on the outside who perceive that there is undo inappropriate pressure being brought to bear.”

He added that the “mess” created by the inappropriate pressure was “disturbing.”

“I just think the integrity of the process is being unduly undermined by inappropriate comments and actions on the part of people at the top of our government,” Walton said. “I think it’s very unfortunate. And I think as a government and as a society we’re going to pay a price at some point for this.”

It seemed Cooney took the judge’s remarks seriously, accepting a shorter timeline and saying that he would “report back” on the court’s complaints.

“I want to assure the court that I and others involved in this take our representation of the United States and the Department of Justice very seriously,” Cooney said. The judge made clear, though, that he wasn’t criticizing the prosecutor himself.

After Walton agreed on the extension, Anne Weismann, a lawyer for CREW, was allowed to speak to the judge.

“Sadly, we’re in dark times where there’s growing evidence that the president, aided by the attorney general, is using the power of his office to go after perceived political enemies,” she said. “He’s going after the intelligence community. He’s going after the law enforcement community. And we believe that Mr. McCabe was swept up in that.”

“Going after the courts, too,” the judge interjected.

“And he’s going after the courts, the press,” Weismann agreed. “It’s hard to find someone who isn’t a victim of his abuse of powers.”

Judge Cites ‘Real Concern’ Over Barr’s Mueller Report Redactions

A federal judge says he’s willing to consider double-checking the work of Attorney General William Barr after Barr releases a redacted version of the Mueller report — because it’s not clear whether the Trump appointee can be trusted to share as much of the report as possible with the American people.

“The attorney general has created an environment that has caused a significant part of the American public to be concerned” that Barr might censor more of the Mueller report than is absolutely necessary to protect national security and ongoing investigations, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said Tuesday afternoon.

“Obviously there is a real concern as to whether there is full transparency,” Walton, a George W. Bush appointee, added.

Barr has faced intense scrutiny for releasing only a brief, four-page summary of the Mueller report that included almost no direct quotes from the report itself. And since that summary was released, members of Mueller’s team have complained that Barr seemed to be whitewashing their report in a way favorable to Trump.

The Department of Justice says it will release a censored version of the Mueller report on Thursday, almost a month after special counsel Robert Mueller completed it.

CNN reports that during the hearing, which centered on a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by Buzzfeed to see the full Mueller report, Walton said he would consider reviewing the full Mueller report himself, comparing it to Barr’s redacted version, and then giving the document to organizations like Buzzfeed that requested it using FOIA.

“That type of review would be a win for those suing for the document because it would bring in a judge to check the executive branch’s decision-making on redactions,” CNN notes.

After Barr released his summary, Trump falsely claimed the Mueller report exonerated him, which even Barr’s summary made clear that it did not.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a member of both the Oversight and Judiciary committees in the House, described Barr’s letter as an “elaborate public relations ploy” that was “purged and sanitized of any facts and details.”

Barr has a history of misleading Congress with cherry-picked summaries of DOJ reports. Some 30 years ago, when Barr served in the Justice Department under George H.W. Bush, he gave Congress what he claimed was a summary of a legal argument. After a congressional subpoena, however, the full legal argument came out — and exposed Barr as a liar.

Walton still says he is is reserving judgement for the time being, but made it clear that he may well demand to see the un-redacted version of the report after he sees how much of it is censored by Barr and his team.

“We don’t know exactly what is going to be produced by the government on Thursday,” Walton said. “I would hope the government is going to be as transparent as it can be.”

Indeed.

Published with permission of The American Independent.