Ken White: Barr’s startling and unseemly haste
While refusing to further characterize Mueller’s findings, Barr offered the lawmakers a few additional morsels that were not previously known. He said the process of redacting the report for public consumption is “going along very well” and that he would release it “within a week”—keeping to his mid-April timetable.
Democrats have assailed Barr’s plan for redacting four categories of information, warning that the attorney general could use the excisions to shield damaging findings about Trump from the public. And while lawmakers acknowledge that some information—such as classified intelligence on the Russian government—should be withheld from the public, they have argued that Congress needs the full, unredacted report to exercise its constitutional oversight responsibilities.
On that front, Barr left Democrats disappointed. He suggested that Congress might never see the most sensitive portions of Mueller’s report, much less the evidence the special counsel used to arrive at his conclusions, which Democrats have also demanded to see. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have already voted to authorize subpoenas for the full report and its underlying evidence, likely setting up a court battle with Barr.
“I don’t intend at this stage to send the full, unredacted report to the committee,” the attorney general told the appropriations panel. He was responding to a question from Republican Representative Tom Graves of Georgia, who sought to elicit a warning to members of Congress not to leak redacted portions of the report to the public.
Read: The critical part of Mueller’s report that Barr didn’t mention
The attorney general said it would be “unfortunate” if Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler or some other lawmaker leaked the full report. But he voiced doubts that Nadler would get his hands on it. “I’m not sure where he would get it,” Barr said. “If he got it directly from the [special] counsel, that would be unfortunate. I doubt that would happen.”
The special counsel did not assist in drafting either of Barr’s two letters to Congress; Mueller, the attorney general said, was given the opportunity to review the first letter before it went out, but declined for reasons Barr said he did not know. Mueller’s lack of involvement in that letter is important given a report from The New York Times that members of his team believe the attorney general “failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and that they were more troubling for President Trump than Mr. Barr indicated.”
Read: Even Congress might not get the full Mueller report
Mueller’s team is, however, participating in the redaction process, as are members of the intelligence community and prosecutors working on cases that could be affected by the public disclosure of certain information in the report, Barr said. In his second letter to Congress, the attorney general had outlined four categories of information that would be redacted:
(1) material subject to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) that by law cannot be made public; (2) material the intelligence community identifies as potentially compromising sensitive sources and methods; (3) material that could affect other ongoing matters, including those that the Special Counsel has referred to other Department offices; and (4) information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.
On Tuesday, Barr told lawmakers that the redactions would be “color-coded” with explanations as to why the information was being blacked out. That could provide a road map for Democrats to challenge the redactions in court, and Barr acknowledged that Nadler could ask a judge to authorize release of certain material redacted because it involves secret grand-jury proceedings. But, under questioning from Democratic Representative Ed Case of Hawaii, the attorney general said he did not intend to seek a court order himself.