Appeals court orders release of more from Mueller report

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  • Robert Mueller
    American attorney

A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the public has the right to see additional portions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report detailing his investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia concluded that when the much-anticipated report was released publicly by the Justice Department in 2019, officials withheld too much information on privacy grounds, in particular about decisions not to prosecute certain individuals who came under scrutiny.

The appeals court judges examined the deleted portions and concluded that some of the deletions did little more than explain Mueller’s rationale. Those sections should be made public, the D.C. Circuit panel said.

“We determine after our own in camera review of the Report that these passages show only how the government reached its declination decisions and do not contain new facts or stigmatizing material,” Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson wrote in an 18-page decision joined by Judges David Tatel and Harry Edwards.

“The redacted passages contain no new facts; they contain no new information or descriptions of conduct that have not been made public elsewhere in this very Report. The privacy interests, then, are not robust, as no additional reputational or stigmatizing harm can result from the disclosure of the information contained therein,” Henderson added.

The information the appeals court said should be released relates to potential violations of campaign-related laws by Trump campaign officials, not to false-statement cases prosecutors considered against various subjects of the probe. The portions on decisions related to false statements “include new facts that would be stigmatizing,” Henderson wrote.

The D.C. Circuit ruling came in a Freedom of Information Act suit filed by BuzzFeed and one of its reporters, Jason Leopold. BuzzFeed editor Mark Schoofs hailed the new decision as a “huge legal victory” for transparency in government.

“BuzzFeed enthusiastically applauds and welcomes today’s unanimous ruling from three federal judges — the result of months of dedicated, relentless legal work and investigative journalism to ensure that the workings of our government are transparent and readily accessible to the public,” Schoofs said in a statement.

The precise details of the information to be released were not made public on Tuesday since the Justice Department has the right to seek further review of the decision by the full bench of the appeals court or at the Supreme Court.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment on the ruling.

Henderson was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, Tatel by President Bill Clinton and Edwards by President Jimmy Carter.

The appeals court’s action overturned part of a decision issued last year in which U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton, an appointee of President George W. Bush, largely upheld the Justice Department’s redactions.

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