A federal judge — a Republican appointee, no less — last week said from the bench what this newspaper and others have said for a long time: Attorney General William Barr has misled the public about the Russia report and other issues in an ongoing, inappropriate campaign to protect his boss, President Donald Trump. This deception has been so significant, says U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, that the validity of Barr’s redactions to that report simply cannot be accepted at face value.
Having effectively concluded that Barr can’t be trusted to tell the truth, Walton will review for himself the redactions to determine whether they were made in good faith or represent yet another instance of Barr putting his fealty to Trump above his duty to the nation. Combined with upcoming House hearings, this may finally be a reckoning for this deeply compromised public official.
When special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his lengthy report last year on Russian election interference, Barr stalled its release long enough to issue his own summary of its contents. That four-page summary was a diversion meant to give the impression that the damning report has exonerated Trump when it clearly did not.
Although Mueller laid out “multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations,” Barr’s summary claims the report “identifies no actions” that could constitute obstruction of justice. The report’s detailed account of the White House’s stonewalling against investigators somehow got interpreted in Barr’s summary as: “The White House fully cooperated.” The report’s remarkable caveat that it “does not exonerate” Trump gets no mention in Barr’s summary, which instead concludes there was “no collusion.”
There’s lots more. Barr pushed back on his own investigators when they failed to validate Trump’s outlandish conspiracy theories against the FBI. Barr has launched a separate inquiry, presumably one that will deliver the answer he wants. Barr’s Justice Department is coordinating with a continuing quest by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, to dig up dirt in Ukraine on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, an inappropriate use of a public office. Recently, Barr overruled Justice Department lawyers to seek a lighter sentence for Trump crony Roger Stone, just hours after Trump tweet-ranted about the case.
Given all that, plaintiffs in a freedom-of-information lawsuit seeking the full, unredacted Russia report are right to suspect that Barr’s redactions may not be limited to legitimate topics like national security. Indeed, as Judge Walton put it, Barr’s assurances “cannot be credited … in light of [his] conduct and misleading public statements.”
It will be interesting to see what the judge finds behind those redactions. Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee later this month will probe Barr’s controversial behavior in office. As we’ve argued before, such a review is necessary — and past due.