Remember that letter from eight days ago? Emphasis mine:
On Friday, the Special Counsel submitted to me a “confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions” he has reached, as required by 28 C.F.R. $ 600.8(c). This report is entitled “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Although my review is ongoing, I believe that it is in the public interest to describe the report and to summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.
This prompted a lot of discussion of Barr’s memo; follow that New York Times link, and the headline declares it a summary. CNN called it a summary too, as did the Washington Post, Vox, The Atlantic, Business Insider, the CBC, and so on. Three days ago, or five days after he released his first memo, Barr released a second.
Also, I am aware of some media reports and other public statements mischaracterizing my March 24, 2019 supplemental notification as a “summary” of the Special Counsel’s investigation and report. For example, Chairman Nadler’s March 25 letter refers to my supplemental notification as a “four-page summary of the Special Counsel’s review.” My March 24 letter was not, and did not purport to be, an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report. … I do not believe it would be in the public’s interest for me to attempt to summarize the full report or to release it in serial or piecemeal fashion.
Wait, so that original memo wasn’t a summary? Then what was it?
… an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report. As my letter made clear, my notification to Congress and the public provided, pending release of the report, a summary of its “principal conclusions”—that is, its bottom line.
Any reasonable person would treat “summary” and “summarize its principle conclusions” as synonymous, and conclude Barr was releasing a summary. Barr is trying to pull a Bill Clinton and push a specific interpretation of specific words that’s at odds with their general understanding. As a lawyer, he almost certainly chose those words deliberately and with that intent.
That’s barely the start of what was wrong with Barr’s original memo.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti observes that “he is likely pushing back because calling it a ‘summary’ suggests that the letter accurately summarizes the entire report, and it does not do so.” Moreover, by hiding even the length of the report in the first letter, Barr helped President Trump perpetuate the assertion that Mueller hadn’t found much of anything. If it took almost 400 pages to lay out his findings, we can bet there’s plenty of interest to the American people.
Other Justice Department veterans agree that Barr is playing defense. “I think he’s clearly a bit stung by the criticism he’s gotten this week, and this letter was his attempt to look like he is committed to transparency without actually making any new commitments,” says former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller.
Note the timing as well: Barr’s first memo was released two days after he announced he had the SCO report, when the media was desperate for any scraps and would eagerly blast them to the public. His second memo was released on a Friday night, when the media was less likely to notice and report on it, and long after everyone had already called the first memo a summary.
Then there’s the issue of redactions: Barr identified two types of information he’d like to redact in his first memo, info related to ongoing investigations and “matters occurring before a grand jury.” In the second memo two more categories pop up, “material … potentially compromising sensitive sources and methods” plus “information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”
All but the first of these four categories are problematic. […]
“This is not how things are meant to happen,” said Professor Neil Katyal, Professor of National Security Law at Georgetown University Law Center and former Acting Solicitor General of the United States, who drafted the special counsel regulations, on MSNBC on March 29.
In connection with Barr’s unwillingness to release the unredacted report to Congress, Katyal said: “The fact that he won’t do that is really suspicious and tells me that there is information in the Mueller Report that Barr doesn’t want to come out. I don’t think it’s for up-and-up reasons. I think it’s because it’s embarrassing to the president.”
As that Forbes editorial points out, this wasn’t a problem with past Special Council reports. Ken Starr finished his report on a Wednesday, and Congress was given a full, unredacted version of it the same day. It too contained grand jury material, but Starr merely had to consult with a judge to get that released to Congress. The public themselves got restricted access two days later via the internet. The turnaround was so rapid because, as Special Council, Starr knew his report had to be delivered to Congress and the public. He’d done the hard work of working out the redactions while drafting the report, so the publication would proceed as rapidly as possible.
Yet Barr is implying Mueller had no idea he’d be submitting his report to Congress or the public, and offloaded that work to Barr. Tack on the fact that Barr’s job application included an unsolicited memo which claimed the President was immune from prosecution, and his past work was stopping the Iran-Contra investigation by pardoning the key players, and this stinks of a deliberate cover-up. No wonder the House Judiciary committee is preparing the subpoena cannon.