This is a really big deal. I am not aware of any federal judge at any time having rebuked an attorney general in this way and essentially declaring that the attorney general, and by extension the Department of Justice, has no credibility before his court.
William “Coverup” Barr has effectively destroyed the institution of the Department of Justice by turning it into the personal law firm of Donald Trump to favor his friends, and to attack his political opponents. This is a hallmark of authoritarian banana republics. He is the most corrupt attorney general in American history.
The New York Times reports, Judge Calls Barr’s Handling of Mueller Report ‘Distorted’ and ‘Misleading’:
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.
Mr. Barr could not be trusted, Judge Reggie B. Walton said, citing “inconsistencies” between the attorney general’s statements about the report when it was secret and its actual contents that turned out to be more damaging to President Trump. Mr. Barr’s “lack of candor” called into question his “credibility and, in turn, the department’s” assurances to the court, Judge Walton said.
The Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 3.3: Candor Toward the Tribunal, should result in Judge Walton referring William Barr to the bar associations for disciplinary action. Given his multiple and ongoing unethical acts as attorney general, there is little doubt that he should be disbarred.
The judge ordered the Department of Justice to privately show him the portions of the report that were censored in the publicly released version so he could independently verify the justifications for those redactions. The ruling came in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking a full-text version of the report.
The differences between the report and Mr. Barr’s description of it “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,” wrote Judge Walton, an appointee of President George W. Bush.
Mr. Barr’s public rollout of the Mueller report has been widely criticized. 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 discrepancies] Judge Walton cited: Mr. Barr’s obfuscation about the scope of the links that investigators found between the Trump campaign and Russia, and how the report documented numerous episodes that appear to meet the criteria for obstruction of justice, echoing the complaints of many critics of Mr. Barr’s summary of the report.
Among the issues Judge Walton flagged: Mr. Barr 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, and left it at that.
But 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 also wrote that the special counsel “only concluded” that the investigation did not establish that the contacts rose to “coordination” because Mr. Mueller interpreted that term narrowly, requiring, in the report’s words, agreement that is “more than the two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests.”
In addition, Mr. Barr told the public in March that Mr. Mueller had made no decision about whether the president obstructed justice, then pronounced Mr. Trump cleared of those suspicions.
But Mr. Barr “failed to disclose to the American public,” Judge Walton wrote, that Mr. Mueller had explained that it would be inappropriate to make a judgment while the president was still in office about whether he committed obstruction crimes. The report also said that if the evidence had cleared Mr. Trump, Mr. Mueller would have said so, but he was unable to exonerate him.
“The speed by which Attorney General Barr released to the public the summary of Special Counsel Mueller’s principal conclusions, coupled with the fact that Attorney General Barr failed to provide a thorough representation of the findings set forth in the Mueller report, causes the court to question whether Attorney General Barr’s intent was to create a one-sided narrative about the Mueller report — a narrative that is clearly in some respects substantively at odds with the redacted version of the Mueller report,” Judge Walton wrote.
The judge also blasted similar “inconsistencies” in public comments made by Mr. Barr hours before he released the redacted version of the report in April.
Because of that pattern, Judge Walton wrote, he could not look away from the fact that the portions of the Mueller report that the Justice Department was withholding in the Freedom of Information Act case mirrored the deletions made under Mr. Barr’s guidance in the version of the report released in April.
That echoing, he wrote, causes “the court to question whether the redactions are self-serving and were made to support, or at the very least to not undermine, Attorney General Barr’s public statements and whether the department engaged in post-hoc rationalization to justify Attorney General Barr’s positions.”
The judge’s criticism reinforced the impression that Mr. Barr has been on a mission to undercut the Mueller inquiry. Barr Increasingly Appears Focused on Undermining Mueller Inquiry:
In ever stronger terms, Mr. Barr has implied that Mr. Mueller was appointed in 2017 only because F.B.I. officials rushed without reason to escalate their suspicions about the Trump campaign into a full-blown investigation.
The Justice Department’s own inspector general rejected that premise late last year, finding that the bureau’s decision was justified by the facts. But Mr. Barr has assigned a federal prosecutor to investigate the matter further and has suggested that the inquiry might conclude that the F.B.I. acted in bad faith. Investigators are also said to be examining the intelligence agencies’ assessment that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia interfered in the American presidential race on behalf of Mr. Trump.
Last month, Mr. Barr appointed another outside prosecutor to review a case that Mr. Mueller brought against the president’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn for lying to the F.B.I. And in a second case that the Mueller team brought against Roger J. Stone Jr., Mr. Trump’s longtime friend, the attorney general overruled career prosecutors to seek a more lenient prison sentence, triggering a chain of events that the federal judge overseeing the case called “unprecedented.”
In those and other instances, Mr. Barr has never mentioned Mr. Mueller by name. But he has increasingly sided with the view of Mr. Trump and his allies that the special counsel’s inquiry was baseless. As Mr. Barr put it succinctly in a December interview with NBC News, “Our nation was turned on its head for three years, I think, based on a completely bogus narrative.”
He has implicitly criticized both John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director under President Barack Obama, and James B. Comey, whom Mr. Trump fired as F.B.I. director in 2017, for actions related to the Russia inquiry. Noting that Mr. Brennan twice warned the Russian government not to interfere in the 2016 election, Mr. Barr said it was “inexplicable” no one warned the Trump campaign that the Russians had targeted it.
The likely explanation: the FBI does not tip off the subject of an investigation so that they continue to engage in their illegal activities, which allows the FBI to identify everyone involved. Investigations 101.
He also said Mr. Comey refused to take the necessary security clearance steps that would have enabled him to cooperate fully with Michael E. Horowitz, the department’s inspector general, in his review of aspects of the Russia investigation. But he noted that John H. Durham, the United States attorney for Connecticut who is separately investigating the origins of the Russia inquiry, has the power to compel testimony. “A decision has to be made about motivations,” he said.
The president’s allies are eager to draw Mr. Barr more publicly to their side. At an expected upcoming oversight hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Lindsey Graham, the Republican of South Carolina who chairs the panel, is likely to question Mr. Barr about whether he believes the Mueller inquiry was necessary or justified.
Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and another staunch defender of the president, has promised to ask the Justice Department to open a criminal inquiry into whether the special counsel’s office mishandled the prosecution of George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I.
* * *
Outside prosecutors have now been assigned to review the Flynn prosecution, along with other politically sensitive national security cases — a level of second-guessing that has disturbed federal prosecutors in the Washington office and elsewhere.
[T]he sentencing of Roger Stone, a former campaign adviser to Mr. Trump, turned into a debacle for the department. Mr. Barr overruled the sentencing recommendation of four career prosecutors after Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that Mr. Stone was being treated too harshly.
The prosecutors withdrew from the case in protest. Faced with a backlash in his department, Mr. Barr asked the president on national television to quit commenting on the department’s criminal cases, and associates suggested he was on the verge of resigning. But when Mr. Trump ignored him, Mr. Barr stayed put.
While Mr. Barr insisted he made his decision about Mr. Stone’s proper punishment based on the merits of the case, sentencing data show the move was extraordinary.
[T]he government requested that Mr. Stone be granted leniency despite the fact that he had refused to plead guilty.
That was the case in less than 2 percent of the nearly 75,000 criminal defendants who were sentenced in federal courts in the fiscal year that ended in September, according to data from the United States Sentencing Commission. The Stone case also stands out because the government ended up seeking a lighter punishment than the federal probation office had recommended, although that recommendation was likely guided by information provided by the prosecutors whom Mr. Barr overruled.
In fact, a review by The New York Times of more than 60 federal cases in which a defendant faced at least one similar charge to Mr. Stone’s turned up no instances in which the government recommended leniency after a trial.
As Greg Sargent of the Washington Post says, A judge just brutally rebuked William Barr. Democrats must act:
This is becoming urgent, yet Democrats have been oddly reluctant to pursue it.
While some Democrats will see such stepped-up oversight as a politically unpalatable relitigation of the past — a species of sore-loserism — this would ideally be all about what’s coming. It’s needed so we can be prepared for the unforeseeable ways that Barr might assist Trump with reelection.
[Judge Walton’s rebuke] opens the door for House Democrats to unleash the oversight hounds in a serious way, directed at Barr on numerous fronts.
This includes a more robust look at Barr’s handling of the Mueller investigation.
* * *
It’s crucial to stress here that the utility of this would also be forward-looking. If we fully comprehend what Barr has been capable of doing on Trump’s behalf, we can more forthrightly reckon with what Barr is doing now for Trump, and what he might do heading into the election.
The pattern is unmistakable — and damning.
Barr’s Justice Department worked to keep the whistleblower complaint detailing Trump’s corrupt Ukraine scheme from Congress. Barr has undertaken a review of the Russia investigation that’s plainly designed to discredit its conclusions that Russia did interfere to help Trump. Barr has opened up a special channel to receive information about Joe Biden and his son Hunter directly from Rudolph W. Giuliani, who is Trump’s private lawyer and who is still apparently seeking such information.
Those last two undertakings have direct relevance to the coming election: Trump likely wants Barr’s help in undermining the idea that Russia helped him last time, in the apparent willingness to benefit from foreign interference again. And now that Biden is Trump’s likely opponent, the pipeline of “information” from Ukraine might suddenly become more important to Trump.
Let’s face it: Given what we’ve seen, we can’t rule out the possibility that Barr might use the tools of law enforcement to cast public doubt on the Democratic nominee and/or members of his family in some way.
Barr is set to testify to the Judiciary Committee on March 31. All this will be central to Democratic questioning, but they must ramp up the oversight pressure going forward. “The attorney general has repeatedly elevated Trump’s political interests above the rule of law,” Raskin told me, “and there’s no sign he’s stopping.”
“We need to establish our readiness to prevent the department from being used as an instrument of political advancement for the president,” Raskin continued, asserting that this is “a moving target that affects the current presidential campaign.”
Democrats should use William Barr’s testimony on March 31 as the initial inquiry into grounds for his impeachment and removal from office. This utterly corrupt embarrassment to the legal profession absolutely needs to go. Hopefully he will be held accountable someday.