WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr is distorting the facts when it comes to releasing special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in the Russia investigation.
In remarks Thursday at the Justice Department, Barr suggested he was not really supposed to be publicly releasing the two-volume report but, on the other hand, it was “long-standing” practice to share such types of confidential information with the White House.
He’s off-base on both fronts.
Barr: “These reports are not supposed to be made public.”
The facts: He’s not going out on a limb for public disclosure.
Justice Department regulations give Barr wide authority to release a special counsel’s report in situations it “would be in the public interest.” Barr had made clear during his Senate confirmation hearing in January that he believed in transparency with the report on Mueller’s two-year investigation into Russian election interference during the 2016 campaign, “consistent with regulations and the law.”
Barr: He said it was “consistent with long-standing practice” for him to share a copy of the redacted report with the White House and president’s attorneys before its release: “Earlier this week, the president’s personal counsel requested and were given the opportunity to read a final version of the redacted report before it was publicly released. That request was consistent with the practice followed under the Ethics in Government Act, which permitted individuals named in a report prepared by an independent counsel the opportunity to read the report before publication.”
The facts: Actually, Barr’s decision, citing the Ethics in Government Act, is inconsistent with independent counsel Ken Starr’s handling of his report into whether President Bill Clinton obstructed and lied in Starr’s probe.
On Sept. 7, 1998, Clinton’s attorney David Kendall requested that Starr provide him an opportunity to review the report before it was sent to Congress. Starr quickly turned him down.
“As a matter of legal interpretation, I respectfully disagree with your analysis,” Starr wrote to Kendall two days later. Starr called Kendall “mistaken” regarding the rights of the president’s attorneys to “review a ‘report’ before it is transmitted to Congress.”
Starr’s report was governed by the ethics act cited by Barr as his justification for showing the report to the president’s team. It has since expired. Current regulations governing Mueller’s work don’t specify how confidential information should be shared with the White House.
Starr’s report led to the impeachment trial of Clinton in 1999.