In sharp rebuke, conservative judge questions AG Bill Barr's honesty

It's not often when a federal judge declares publicly that the sitting U.S. attorney general cannot be trusted.
Image: Attorney General William Barr holds a press conference rat the Department of Justice in Washington
Attorney General William Barr holds a press conference at the Department of Justice in Washington on Jan. 13, 2020.Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP - Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

Before Americans saw Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on the Russia scandal, the document was delivered to Attorney General Bill Barr, who released his own "summary" of the findings. At least initially, it was the only thing interested Americans had to go by, and it appeared designed to help Donald Trump.

Making matters slightly worse, Barr held a press conference -- again, before the release of the Mueller Report -- putting a political spin on the special counsel's conclusions.

Eventually, the report itself reached the public, at which point it became clear that the attorney general had played fast and loose with investigators' findings in order to help the White House. But even then, there were lingering concerns: the full Mueller Report wasn't entirely full, because there were redactions, which Barr said were necessary for national security reasons.

The trouble, of course, is that Barr says all sorts of things, and given his lack of credibility, it's difficult to have confidence in his assurances. A lawsuit soon followed, demanding the release of a full, unredacted version of the Mueller Report.

Yesterday, as NBC News reported, the attorney general's credibility problem started catching up with him in dramatic fashion.

A federal judge on Thursday strongly criticized Attorney General William Barr's disclosure of the Mueller report last year, calling early statements about special counsel Robert Mueller's conclusions "misleading."

In this case, it wasn't just any federal judge; it was U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who's earned a reputation as a conservative jurist chosen for the bench by George W. Bush. Walton, like many of us, has taken note of Barr's political actions on behalf of the White House, which has led the judge "to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller report in favor of President Trump."

In a 23-page ruling, Walton went on to reference Barr's "lack of candor," while also calling out the Republican lawyer's "distorted" and "misleading" account of Mueller's findings.

In case this isn't obvious, it's not often when a federal judge declares publicly that the sitting attorney general cannot be trusted. Barr has gone to scandalous lengths to politicize federal law enforcement, and the damage to his credibility has not gone unnoticed.

As for the litigation at hand, Walton yesterday directed the Justice Department to provide him with a full, unredacted copy of the Mueller Report, which the judge will personally review to determine the legitimacy of the existing redactions.

If Walton finds that some of the redactions were made to help protect the president politically, will anyone seriously be surprised?