Following a years-long legal struggle, BuzzFeed News was granted access to ten redacted sections of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, including one that explains the decision not to seek criminal charges against Donald Trump Jr. and others.
A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously ruled Tuesday that lifting the veil of secrecy serves a “significant public interest” and that “disclosure would also show how the Special Counsel interpreted the relevant law and applied it to already public facts in reaching his declination decisions.”
The portions should be kept out of the public eye, according to the Justice Department, to safeguard the privacy rights of the people involved. However, the court decided that other parts of the report “diminished” those rights after seeing an unredacted copy of the report, which described the investigation into Russia’s influence in the 2016 election and then-President Donald Trump’s attempts to obstruct the investigation.
“The factual and personally-identifying information alleged to be contained in the redacted passages,” the opinion said, “is available elsewhere in the Report.” It continued, “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.”
As a result, “the strong public interest tips the scale in favor of disclosure, as releasing this information would show only government decision making, not new private information.” Judge Karen Henderson, a George H.W. Bush appointee, wrote the opinion.
The Department of Justice must lift redactions on ten sentences — on pages 9, 179, 180, and 183 — that address the decision not to charge anyone with campaign finance crimes and a computer-related crime, according to the appeals court opinion.
“Of the individuals whose privacy interests may be jeopardized by disclosure of the requested information, only one is a public official. The remaining individuals are private citizens who served on a presidential campaign,” the opinion said.
The Department of Justice can still appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
The government maintained that these new disclosures were unnecessary because the majority of the study had already been made public, and Congress had previously produced its own investigation on Russian election meddling in 2016.
However, the appeals court dismissed the government’s claim as “irrelevant” because Mueller’s legal analysis of whether or not to press charges has not been made public and would “irrelevant” because Mueller’s legal analysis of whether to bring charges has not been released and likely would “contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government.”
One of the censored portions the government is required to release corresponds to a section of the report that is open to the public and concerns Donald Trump Jr.’s connection with Wikileaks during the 2016 campaign.