Attorney General William Barr told lawmakers Tuesday that he’d likely release a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report “within a week,” but it won’t include grand jury information. To release that information to lawmakers, Barr would have to request permission from a judge, as both Leon Jaworski and Kenneth Starr did following their respective investigations into Watergate and Whitewater. But Barr sees no need to follow the very same steps taken by the people who led high-profile investigations of presidents past.
“My intention is not to ask for it at this stage,” Barr told Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii regarding release of the grand-jury material.
Just to be clear, that means Barr is breaking with precedent, prioritizing secrecy over transparency, and denying lawmakers the tools they need to perform their constitutional duties as elected representatives.
On top of that, Barr seems to have used the grand jury disclosure exception as an excuse to buy time for his lengthy redaction process. As Barr testified and a Justice Department spokesperson asserted last week, Barr wasn’t able to release the summaries prepared by Mueller’s prosecutors because all the pages included grand jury information. Specifically, Kerri Kupec said, “every page … was marked ‘May Contain Material Protected Under Fed. R Crim. P. 6(e)’ — a law that protects confidential grand jury information — and therefore could not be publicly released.”
But former federal prosector Mimi Rocah, who was originally inclined to give Barr the benefit of the doubt, told MSNBC Tuesday that using the grand jury information as a rationale for nondisclosure was “completely disingenuous.”
“That’s a precautionary stamp,” Rocah said, explaining that it’s not an “inflexible” designation. “I feel like what’s going on here is Barr is hiding behind 6(e). … For him to say that that stamp prohibited him from releasing those summaries is really just him hiding behind that rule.”
Joyce Vance, another former federal prosecutor, predicted, “He’s going to fight Congress every inch of the way.” Vance observed that Barr was far more intent on getting a “heavily redacted” version of the report to the American public than on getting as much material as possible to Congress. That suggests that he is more interested in trying to satisfy the public with an inferior work product than empowering lawmakers with the information they need.
That’s partially why former FBI assistant director Frank Figliuzzi found Barr’s testimony so problematic.
“We didn’t see an attorney general who was advancing the ball toward disclosure and transparency and helping to heal the divisions in this country,” he said. “This is setting us up for a battle that is not healthy for the country.”
It’s a battle that other lead investigators, such as Jaworski and Starr, have sought to avoid by working to make the information they found available to Congress so lawmakers could draw their own conclusions. In fact, Jaworski argued for the grand jury material to be released to Congress, and Starr proactively obtained a court order for congressional release. But Barr appears to be dead set on depriving lawmakers of the critical information necessary to judge Donald Trump’s actions. In the meantime, Barr is hoping to soothe the public into complacency with a Swiss-cheese version of Mueller’s report.