Dispatch April 10, 2019

What Barr’s Testimony Tells Us About Releasing the Mueller Report

The evidence is piling up that Attorney General William Barr is helping President Donald Trump cover up potentially damaging information in the Mueller report. Look no further than his behavior before the House Appropriations Committee yesterday, where he declared that he would not send the “full, unredacted report” to the Judiciary Committee.

He has consistently played the role of Cover-Up General, even seemingly in conflict with members of Mueller’s actual team.

Mueller’s team reportedly wrote their own summaries of the report that could be released to the public—without any need for redactions. But Barr claimed he was “not interested in putting out summaries or trying to summarize,” despite having released his own summary on March 24.

  • According to The Washington Post, Mueller’s team intentionally prepared the report “so that the front matter from each section could have been released immediately—or very quickly,” with as little need for redaction as possible.
  • Instead of releasing these ready-made summaries, Barr opted to write his own letter (which he now claims “was not, and did not purport to be, an exhaustive recounting of” Mueller’s report) using only four partial sentences from the report itself.
  • Barr’s claim that he still needs to redact the report before providing it to even the House and Senate Judiciary Committees doesn’t hold up in the face of summaries written specifically to be released without redactions.

Barr has cited three main reasons for redactions: grand jury secrecy, damaging information about third parties, and classified information. None of those reasons make sense.

  • Concerns about grand jury secrecy can easily be addressed: Barr could obtain clearance to release that information from a court. But in testimony yesterday he confirmed that he will not do so.
    • Yesterday, he made his disdain for transparency clear, saying that House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler “is free to go to court if he feels one of those exceptions is applicable.”
    • In his testimony, Barr himself conceded that redactions of grand jury material are unnecessary because he can simply request that the material be released any time, but that it is his “intention not to ask for it.”
  • Barr also claims he may need to redact classified information for national security reasons. That may be true for releasing the report to the public, but it certainly isn’t for members of Congress, who deal with classified information on a regular basis.
    • Given the urgent need to understand Russia’s attack on our democracy, it’s in the public’s interest that as much of the report and its underlying material be declassified as possible.
  • Barr also cited concerns about information damaging to “peripheral third parties”. If this is meant to include the president or his close associates, that is unacceptable.
    • Given this Department of Justice’s policy against indicting a sitting president, disclosing to Congress what the Mueller investigation learned about Trump and his inner circle may be the only way to hold him accountable.
    • It’s also highly possible that this is what Mueller’s team intended.
    • Barr is Attorney General, not his PR shop—his focus should not be trying to hide critical information from the American people.

The history of independent investigations shows just how unprecedented Barr’s obstruction is.

  • The “Watergate Road Map” that helped provide the foundation for Congress’s investigation of President Richard Nixon for obstruction of justice didn’t just contain grand jury information—it was almost entirely grand jury information, offering brief synopses of the major events and citing the relevant closed-door testimony.
    • As the memo that leads the report states, the intent wasn’t to detail charges against Nixon but to provide detailed information for Congress to consider in its impeachment proceedings.
  • Republicans in Congress, some of whom are still serving today, seemed to have no problem with Ken Star’s 445-page report being released to the public, and that was almost entirely derogatory information about uncharged parties.
  • There’s a long track record of Congress and the executive branch using their authority to declassify information when there’s a clear national-security rationale to do so, including:
    • the 9/11 Commission’s report
    • the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture
    • the Intelligence Community’s initial, declassified report on Russian interference in January 2017.

Yesterday’s testimony makes it more clear than ever that Barr’s letter was little more than a political stunt, designed to make people think Mueller’s report is far more favorable for the president than it actually is. The full report, and its underlying materials, must be released immediately.