Federal judge lambasts attorney general’s deceit in Mueller case

Federal judge lambasts attorney general’s deceit in Mueller case March 6, 2020

Our compulsively moralizing Attorney General William Barr is demonstrably untrustworthy and appears to have knowingly deceived Congress and the American public.

That’s the damning conclusion of federal Judge Reggie B. Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) case against Barr.

Relevant to this nonreligous blog is that Walton’s deep doubt regarding Barr’s apparent duplicity in this episode also inspires skepticism of the authenticity of the attorney general’s ultra-conservative and pious Catholicism, the Judeo-Christian doctrines of which he has recently proclaimed in public speeches to be the only “moral system” that can save the American republic from secularizing decline.

If this is how a Christian theocracy plays out in our politics, God help us.

The FOIA suit sought to make public the unredacted report of prosecutor Robert Mueller in his recent investigation into alleged contacts with Russians by now-President Donald Trump’s 2015-16 election campaign, and also into the president’s alleged attempts to obstruct that investigation. Plaintiffs are EPIC (the Electronic Privacy Information Center watchdog group) and BuzzFeed News.

Judge Walton wrote in an opinion released this week that Barr, then Trump’s newly appointed attorney general, put forward a “distorted” and “misleading” account of Mueller’s findings and “lack credibility on the topic,” according to a New York Times report Thursday.

The judge further concluded that the attorney general’s “lack of candor” called into question his “credibility and, in turn, the (Department of Justice’s) assurances to the court” about what the Mueller report concluded, the Times reported.

Walton then, in his remarkably skeptical conclusion below, demands to review the full, unredacted Mueller report because he can’t trust the attorney general’s characterization of its contents and conclusions:

“Here, although it is with great consternation, true to the oath that the undersigned took upon becoming a federal judge, and the need for the American public to have faith in the judicial process, considering the record in this case, 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.”

Walton emphasized that Barr’s apparent subterfuge “is precisely the type of situation that Congress envisioned when it enacted the FOIA in 1966 … to pierce the veil of administrative secrecy and to open agency action to the light of public scrutiny,” and to “give[s] citizens access to the information the basis of which government agencies make their decisions, thereby equipping the populace to evaluate and criticize those decisions.”

“[I]n light of [Barr’s] conduct and misleading public statements about [Mueller’s] findings,” Walton concluded he could not fairly determine whether the attorney general’s public characterization of the Mueller report was fair and accurate, and whether redactions were legally necessary.

Walton further concluded he was hard put to trust anything in Barr’s widely criticized public statements about the report, because he has consistently contradicted or falsely characterized the content, tone and tenor of the report’s own language.

“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.”

Barr in his public statements before the Mueller Report was publicly released in redacted form said it exonerated the president from charges of illegal “collusion” with Russians during the campaign and of obstructing Mueller’s investigative attempts to look into such contacts.

In a letter released to the public on April 19, 2018, right before the redacted Mueller report was released, Barr wrote that Mueller’s investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” and that “President [Trump] took no act that in fact deprived Special Counsel [Mueller] of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.”

But Judge Walton pointed out that Barr disingenuously failed to mention that Mueller discovered multiple worrisome contacts between Trump aides and individual Russians with connections to their government in the campaign, and that Mueller specifically stated in the report that if he had not found evidence of obstruction he would have said so in the report. The report also stated that, because Justice Department rules precluded indicting a sitting president, Mueller decided not to charge, ostensibly leaving that to Congress to consider the case. But Barr indicated that had no bearing on the report’s conclusions.

Walton also noted that in an extraordinary March 27, 2018 letter to Barr, Mueller strongly objected to Barr’s public characterizations of his report’s conclusions.

Mueller complained in his letter that Barr’s representations about the case, “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of the Special Counsel’s Office’s work and conclusions” and that “there [was] now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of [his] investigation [that]  threaten[ed] to undermine [its] central purpose: … to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

Walton said in his ruling that after he reads the full, unredacted Mueller report, he will make a decision and report on what redactions, if any, were improperly made. Improper redactions will be reversed and their underlying text made public, he wrote. Otherwise, he will make a report endorsing the redactions.

Keep in mind through all of this that William Barr believes the Judeo-Christian Bible should rule the American republic; no other moral system will suffice, he insists. It’s an authoritarian religious concept. And he also believes, and has written, that he prefers an authoritarian president to one whose powers are broadly shared with Congress and the courts.

In my view, that he generally acts with such purposeful dishonesty in his public political affairs indicts the authenticity of all his private religious beliefs, as well.

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