WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Thursday sharply criticized Attorney General William P. Barr’s handling of the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, saying that Mr. Barr put forward a “distorted” and “misleading” account of its findings and lacked credibility on the topic.
Judge Reggie B. Walton said Mr. 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 Trump. Judge Walton said Mr. Barr’s “lack of candor” 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 Judge Walton, a 2001 appointee of President George W. Bush.
A Justice Department spokeswoman had no immediate comment. The case centers on requests by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and by Jason Leopold, a BuzzFeed News reporter.
Mr. Barr’s public rollout of the Mueller report has been widely criticized. He issued an initial four-page letter he issued in March 2019, two days after receiving the 381-page document, that purported to summarize its principal conclusions. But Mr. Mueller himself sent letters to Mr. Barr protesting that he had distorted its findings and asking him to swiftly release the report’s own summaries. Instead, Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Barr’s control.
Among the issues Judge Walton flagged: Mr. 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 Mr. Mueller did conclude that he found “insufficient evidence” to charge any Trump associates with conspiring with the Russians, Mr. 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.
Judge Walton wrote that the special counsel “only concluded” that the investigation did not establish that the contacts rose to “coordination” because that term “does not have a settled definition in federal criminal law.”