Federal judge blasts Barr for 'misleading' comments on Mueller report

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By Pete Williams  with NBC News Politics
Image: Attorney General William Barr Makes Announcement On Cyber-Related La
Attorney General William Barr participates in a press conference at the Department of Justice along with DOJ officials on Feb. 10, 2020.   -   Copyright  Sarah Silbiger Getty Images file

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

In a ruling on a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking access to the unredacted report, Federal District Court Judge Reggie Walton said Barr's action caused him "to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller report in favor of President Trump."

Walton focused on Barr's initial statement— before the report was released in full— that Mueller's team did not find that anyone on the Trump campaign conspired with Russian efforts to meddle in the election. The judge said Barr left out the fact that the report identified contacts between members of the Trump campaign and people connected with the Russian government.

Barr's "lack of candor," Walton wrote in a 23-page ruling, calls into question the credibility of Barr and the Justice Department in making redactions to the report. For that reason, Walton ordered government lawyers to give him the complete report so he can evaluate whether the material was properly blacked out.

Barr has previously defended his handling of the report, including his decision to make its main conclusions public even before the full document was released. Walton said Barr "can be commended for his effort to expeditiously release a summary."

But Walton said he wondered whether Barr's intent "was to create a one-sided narrative about the Mueller report."

A Justice Department spokeswoman said the department would have no comment on Walton's ruling.