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Federal Judge Slams Barr Over Mueller Report


A federal judge is sharply criticizing Attorney General William Barr over his handling of the Mueller report. The judge says Barr distorted former special counsel Robert Mueller's findings and may have done so to spin them in President Trump's favor. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us to talk more about this.

Hey, Ryan.


SHAPIRO: Tell us about this judge and why he is talking about Barr and the Mueller report now.

LUCAS: So this is Judge Reggie Walton. He's on the district court here in Washington, D.C. He was nominated to the bench by President George W. Bush, so he's been on the court for around 20 years. As for why he's talking about Barr and Mueller now, Walton is overseeing a lawsuit brought under the Freedom of Information Act. It was brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and BuzzFeed, and they are seeking an unredacted version of the report written by special counsel Robert Mueller's office on the Russia investigation. It is worth noting here that there are segments of the Mueller report that are blacked out, but the vast majority of it, of course, is not.

SHAPIRO: Judge Walton released a 23-page opinion in this case. What did it say?

LUCAS: So Walton walks back through the events last March, when Mueller submitted his report to Barr, and then everything that followed up to the public release of the redacted version of the document about a month later. And Judge Walton goes back, looks at Mueller's findings before the public or anyone else had a chance to see it, and he also looks at what Barr said about that. And he compares the two. And Judge Walton says that Barr distorted the report's findings, that the representations that Barr made of Mueller's report don't match what the report itself says. Judge Walton says that when he considers the timeline and what he calls Barr's misleading statements, that raises questions about whether Barr made a, quote, "calculated effort" to spin Mueller's findings to benefit the president.

SHAPIRO: We've heard similar criticisms from Democrats. What does it mean that we're now hearing it from a federal judge appointed by a Republican?

LUCAS: You're right. We have heard Democrats criticize Barr for a lot of things, including his rollout, yes, of the Mueller report. More recently, of course, Barr came under a ton of criticism for intervening in the government sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, who, of course, is a longtime friend of President Trump. But it's not just Democrats on Capitol Hill. In conversations that I have had with former federal prosecutors and other folks in the justice system, I have repeatedly heard concerns about Barr and the possible politicization of the Justice Department under his leadership. But, yes, this sort of blunt criticism from a federal judge of an attorney general is rare. Here you have a judge appointed, as you noted, by a Republican president questioning the attorney general's credibility, the attorney general's honesty. And we see the practical consequences of that in this specific case. Walton says that Barr's actions here make him question the department's justification for blacking out portions of the Mueller report, and he has ordered the Justice Department to give him an unredacted version of the report so that he can review it in court on his own to determine whether more of this document can and should be made public.

SHAPIRO: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas, thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.