Judge calls Barr's handling of Mueller report 'distorted' and 'misleading'

Attorney General William Barr's public rollout of the Mueller report has been widely criticised. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - A federal judge on Thursday (March 5) sharply criticised Attorney General William Barr's handling of the report by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, saying that Barr put forward a "distorted" and "misleading" account of its findings and lacked credibility on the topic.

Judge Reggie Walton said Barr could not be trusted and cited "inconsistencies" between his statements about the report when it was secret and its actual contents that turned out to be more damaging to President Donald Trump. Walton said Barr's "lack of candour" called "into question Attorney General Barr's credibility and, in turn, the department's" assurances to the court.

The judge ordered the Justice Department to privately show him the portions of the report that were censored in the public version so he could independently verify the justifications. The ruling came in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking a full-text version of the report.

"It would be disingenuous for the court to conclude that the redactions of the Mueller Report pursuant to the FOIA are not tainted by Attorney General Barr's actions and representations," wrote Walton, a 2001 appointee of President George W. Bush.

Barr's public rollout of the Mueller report has been widely criticised. He issued an initial four-page letter in March 2019, two days after receiving the 381-page document, that purported to summarise its principal conclusions. But Mueller himself sent letters to Barr protesting that he had distorted its findings and asking him to swiftly release the report's own summaries. Instead, Barr made the report public only weeks later after a fuller review to black out sensitive material.

Still, it was striking to see a Republican-appointed federal judge scathingly dissect Barr's conduct in a formal judicial ruling and declare that the sitting attorney general had so deceived the American people that he could not trust assertions made by a Justice Department under Barr's control.

Among the issues Walton flagged: Barr initially declared that the special counsel had not found that the Trump campaign had conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

While Mueller did conclude that he found "insufficient evidence" to charge any Trump associates with conspiring with the Russians, Barr omitted that the special counsel had identified multiple contacts between Trump campaign officials and people with ties to the Russian government and that the campaign expected to benefit from Moscow's interference.

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