So Walton’s words carried all the more weight when he wrote an order last week rejecting the Trump administration’s attempt to keep hidden the redacted portions of Robert Mueller’s report. Walton said, quite simply, that Attorney General Bill Barr misled the public — and that the nation’s highest law enforcement official can’t be trusted.
Walton wrote of Barr’s “misleading public statements": “The inconsistencies between Attorney General Barr’s statements, made at a time when the public did not have access to the redacted version of the Mueller Report to assess the veracity of his statements, and portions of the redacted version of the Mueller Report that conflict with those statements, cause the Court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump despite certain findings in the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the contrary.”
He continued: “These circumstances generally, and Attorney General Barr’s lack of candor specifically, call into question Attorney General Barr’s credibility.” Walton also said he has reason “to question whether the redactions are self-serving and were made to support, or at the very least to not undermine, Attorney General Barr’s public statements and whether the Department engaged in post-hoc rationalization to justify Attorney General Barr’s positions.”
Such a rebuke by a court of an attorney general’s integrity is, legal experts say, without modern precedent. But it isn’t just a Barr problem.
Reading the judge’s evisceration of Barr, I noticed how the phrases — “lack of candor,” “self-serving,” “post-hoc rationalization,” “calculated attempt to influence public discourse … in favor of President Trump” — define the day-to-day activities of the Trump administration in areas far beyond the attorney general’s shenanigans.
The same lack of candor that Walton saw in Barr is now causing confusion and panic as Trump and his political lieutenants paint a picture of the spreading coronavirus that is utterly at odds with what the nation’s public health experts are saying. With the Mueller probe and the Ukraine scandal, the administration reduced Americans’ trust in law enforcement and the intelligence community. Now, Trump is encouraging distrust of the scientists struggling to fight the virus.
As global markets plunged on Monday and the virus continued its inexorable spread, Trump continued comparing the virus to the “common Flu,” during which “nothing is shut down.” He praised the “great job” the administration is doing against the virus. This came a day after Trump invited comparisons to Roman emperor Nero when he retweeted a fanciful image of him playing a violin with the words “nothing can stop what’s coming.”
While Trump fiddled, a former Trump appointee was on TV telling the truth about the coronavirus crisis. Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” called for urgent, “broad mitigation strategies” that over the next two weeks would “change the complexion in this country.” He said businesses, gatherings, theaters and events would need to be closed to keep the health-care system from becoming “exhausted,” as happened in Wuhan, China.
As for the administration comparing the outbreak to the flu, Gottlieb said: “China didn’t shut down their economy because they had a bad flu season.”
Gottlieb has been correct so far. Four weeks ago, when Trump was still talking about the virus being well contained, Gottlieb predicted outbreaks in the United States would “emerge in the next two to four weeks.”
Instead of listening, Trump and his administration “frittered away” precious weeks, The Post’s Ashley Parker, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Lena H. Sun reported, during which public health officials tried to do their jobs even as Trump “became a font of misinformation and confusion.”
That sounds a lot like what Judge Walton saw in the Justice Department’s “dubious” handling of the Mueller report’s release. In his order, he questioned whether “Barr’s intent was to create a one-sided narrative” that was “at odds with” the report.
This wasn’t Walton’s first such experience. On another case, involving records related to the firing of FBI leader Andrew McCabe, Walton asked in November whether he had been “manipulated” by the administration to stall the records’ release.
And in February, Walton warned about Trump’s “banana-republic”-style attacks on McCabe, later adding: “I think as a government and as a society we’re going to pay a price at some point for this.”
As a deadly virus spreads and Trump misleads the public, that point is now.
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