We enjoy a brief pause from our wall-to-wall election coverage of late on today's BradCast (if not entirely) to revisit the ongoing unraveling of the rule of law as we know it at the U.S. Dept. of Justice under Donald Trump's fixer Attorney General Bill Barr. [Audio link to show is posted at end of summary.]
Late on Thursday, a long-time U.S. District Court judge appointed by George W. Bush issued a blistering --- and perhaps unprecedented --- opinion, essentially describing the U.S. Attorney General as a liar. Judge Reggie Walton described Barr's characterization of the Robert Mueller Special Counsel's Report on the investigation into Russia's influence on the 2016 election, as "distorted" and "misleading".
He cited "inconsistencies" between Barr's description of the findings in Mueller's 381-page report before it was released in redacted form last year, versus the often-damning evidence actually revealed by the Special Counsel's probe. Walton declared that Barr's "lack of candor" called into question his "credibility and, in turn, the department's" reasons for redacting portions of the report in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the full, unredacted text of the document.
"The inconsistencies between Attorney General Barr’s statements, made at a time when the public did not have access to the redacted version of the Mueller Report to assess the veracity of his statements, and portions of the redacted version of the Mueller Report that conflict with those statements 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," Walton said.
The unusually blistering opinion by a federal judge of a sitting U.S. Attorney General, challenging the credibility of DoJ prosecutors who, he felt, might be lying about the reasons for redactions in order to protect Barr's earlier false claims (that Mueller found no evidence of collusion and was unable "to establish that the President committed an obstruction of justice offense" --- all lies) is being cited by former prosecutors as "indicative of the fabric of the justice system deteriorating".
Judge Walton has now ordered the DoJ to privately reveal to him what is under the redactions that the government is claiming are related to national security and other lawful exemptions from FOIA requests.
We're joined today by BuzzFeed News investigative journalist JASON LEOPOLD, who filed the FOIA request in question and has now been forced to sue with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) to challenge the validity of the DoJ's redactions. Leopold tells us he's filed "well over 3,500" such requests, having sued the government "70 times" to force them to follow the law, but says he has never seen anything like the response unleashed by Walton (who has presided over other suits brought by Leopold as well.)
In other similar litigation, Leopold explains, judges tend to simply defer to claims by prosecutors. If they say there is good reason to keep the material redacted, judges do not tend to question them. "It's rare, it's very rare that a judge will actually say 'let me take a look at this and make a decision'." But, Leopold tells me, he has noticed Walton increasingly losing patience with the Department in recent months. "He's become very, very frustrated and sees this as politicization...and therefore, he just can't take their word that these redactions are justified and followed the law."
When I ask if Walton's charge that Barr was "lacking in candor" is a polite way for the judge to say he may be lying, Leopold says "not 'may be' lying --- is lying!," according to his reading of the federal jurist's opinion.
"This is a very important opinion," he argues, "because you're going to see this opinion cited in other Freedom of Information Act cases, when they go to court to say that the withholding of records, that there's questions about whether there's politicization behind that, and that Barr is the person who presides over this department and simply doesn't have credibility." Leopold continues: "This doesn't just disappear. It doesn't just go away. This is in the record. This is a case that people can cite. Barr has really damaged the reputation of the Justice Department."
All of which serves as a helpful reminder of the importance of removing this dangerous Administration from office this November, no matter who ends up becoming the Democratic Presidential nominee. On that important point, and on the likelihood of Democrats winning back the Senate this year, we've got some encouraging news today --- presuming voters who oppose Trump can come together.
And, after that, some less encouraging news as we're joined by Desi Doyen for our latest Green News Report...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)