A federal judge in Washington refused on Tuesday to fast-track the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation, ruling that a group suing for those records had failed to show that it would be irreparably harmed by a slower disclosure process.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said he appreciated the desire of the Electronic Privacy Information Center to obtain the Mueller report, a document detailing what he described as an “extremely important subject matter to the nation.” But Walton denied the group’s push to have the Justice Department immediately begin the process of fulfilling the Freedom of Information Act request, saying, “I have not been convinced that irreparable harm has been established.”
Walton’s ruling came as U.S. Attorney General William Barr, testifying in Congress on Tuesday, said he would deliver a redacted copy of Mueller’s report to lawmakers “within a week.” Barr has been working with top advisers and Mueller to prepare the nearly 400-page report for public release. Questions are sure to remain, however, about the extent to which Barr has blacked out material from the report.
EPIC filed a lawsuit on March 22 demanding the release of the Mueller report, arguing that the public has the right to know the full scope of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
The group’s lawsuit, filed under the Freedom of Information Act, also argued the public was entitled to see what Mueller said about any attempt by President Donald Trump to obstruct the investigation into Russia’s interference. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded the evidence Mueller presented did not amount to an obstruction charge. Mueller, however, had not made any recommendation on such a charge.
At a hearing in Washington, EPIC lawyer Alan Butler argued the Justice Department should be required to immediately begin the process of producing the Mueller report, along with related records. Butler said the Mueller report and related records could help inform the “ongoing public debate” around the Russia investigation.
“Time really is of the essence,” he said.
Justice Department attorney Courtney Enlow said the two sides should engage after the anticipated release of the Mueller report in mid-April, arguing that they would “better understand the world we’re living in.” At that point, she said, EPIC would be able to narrow the scope of a records request she described as “very broad.”
“EPIC is not entitled to emergency injunction relief to obtain a document that did not exist a month ago,” Enlow argued.
The Justice Department, Enlow said, has already agreed to put EPIC’s request on an expedited track but other requests are ahead of it. EPIC, she said, should not be allowed to “leapfrog” the other requests “simply because they filed a lawsuit.”
Barr is set to return to the House and Senate for hearings focused on the Mueller investigation. On Monday, the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee agreed to also call on Mueller to testify.