The schedule for Thursday said there was a news conference by the attorney general. But there was no news to share, and William Barr behaved more like the president’s defense attorney than the nation’s top law-enforcement officer.
Releasing a censored version of the report compiled by the special counsel Robert Mueller is an important first step toward a full public accounting of what happened during the 2016 election, when the Russian government tampered with American democracy and saw its favored candidate win the White House. The Mueller report described Russian election interference as “sweeping and systematic.”
[Times Opinion will be updating our analysis of the Mueller report throughout the day.]
But the Trump administration — based on its pattern of dishonest conduct in office — simply cannot be trusted to be straight with the nation about what parts of the report need to remain concealed from public view. At the very least, Republicans and Democrats in Congress deserve and are right to demand to see the full and entirely unredacted evidence amassed by Mr. Mueller and his team, which runs to more than 400 pages (exclusive of tables and appendices).
There are legitimate reasons for portions of the report to fall under a black marker. Mr. Barr outlined four broad categories: grand jury proceedings, classified material related to sources and methods of acquisition, information related to ongoing cases and material that “would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”
Yet, while some information may indeed be too sensitive to release publicly, there’s no good reason congressional overseers can’t see it. The Justice Department has said that some members of Congress will have limited access to a version of the report with only grand jury material redacted. That is unlikely to satisfy what has become bipartisan concern about the administration’s commitment to transparency.
In a rare moment of comity, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, and the ranking member, Devin Nunes, sent a letter to Mr. Barr last month demanding “full visibility into the Special Counsel’s Office’s report, findings, and underlying evidence and information.”
This month, the House Judiciary Committee, led by Jerrold Nadler of New York, voted to authorize subpoenas to gain access to an unredacted copy of the report and all supporting materials. Forcing the administration to release the full report through a legal challenge, which could drag on for years and go all the way to the Supreme Court, may yet be necessary.
But continued delay would be unfortunate. The American people deserve to know what role a foreign power played in the 2016 election and whether the president impeded the investigation of that interference.
Unfortunately, there’s plenty of evidence that the president can’t be taken at his word when he says that the report is a “complete and total exoneration” of wrongdoing. Nor can the public depend on the word of Mr. Trump’s handpicked attorney general, who has a long history of trying to muffle Republican scandals and whose view of executive branch authority is alarmingly broad. Mr. Barr’s news conference on Thursday, remarkable for the attorney general’s fawning deference to his boss, came across as little more than a spin session.
Whatever remains censored in the report, these truths remain: Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump encouraged that help and, at one point at least, sought it out. In office, Mr. Trump tried to impede the investigation numerous times, including by firing the director of the F.B.I. The president waged a yearslong public campaign to delegitimize the investigation; his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions; and the Justice Department. And when asked about their contacts with Russians, numerous people connected to the Trump campaign repeatedly lied.
What’s at stake with the Mueller report is bigger than Mr. Trump, the criminals he surrounded himself with during and after the presidential campaign, his eldest son who took a meeting with Russians proffering dirt on Hillary Clinton or even the Republican Party, which has stood with the president and against meaningful oversight of his actions. At stake is citizens’ faith in free and fair elections and what needs to be done ahead of the 2020 contest to protect our system of self-governance from interference.