A federal judge in Washington, D.C. scolded Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers on Monday, pressing them on why the public shouldn’t be allowed to see redacted portions of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, suggesting that he may be willing to consider releasing at least some of the restricted document, according to The Hill.
Judge Reggie Walton, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, posed the questions during a hearing on a pair of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits seeking the redacted portions of the report.
Walton in particular raised concerns about Attorney General William Barr’s initial handling of Mueller’s report, indicating that he believed there were discrepancies in how Barr characterized the report and the former special counsel’s actual findings.
“I do have some concerns because it seems to me difficult to reconcile the contents of the Mueller report and statements made by the attorney general” about the report, Walton said.
The judge pointed to a letter authored by Barr weeks ahead of the report’s release that said Mueller determined there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election and Barr’s suggestion that the president was cleared by the report.
Mueller has since stated that his office did not investigate collusion but instead whether any Trump campaign officials conspired with Russians in 2016. And the former special counsel has repeatedly stated that his report does not exonerate President Trump.
Attorneys for those seeking the unredacted portions of the report pressed Walton to request that the disputed redactions be given to him privately so that he could review them and determine if any of the information was already publicly available and no longer needed to redacted.
At several times throughout the hearing, Walton noted the high level of public interest in the redacted versions of the documents.
“That information has strong public interest in multiple ways,” he said of the details redacted in the report.
Walton did not provide a timeline as to when he might issue a decision, saying that he is facing a “heavy” caseload at the moment.
But he noted the high level of public interest in the case in saying he will work to make a decision soon.