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Mueller Report: Understanding Redactions


Attorney General William Barr has promised lawmakers the long-awaited Mueller report, but, of course, there's a catch - redactions. House Democrats and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler wants to see the report without those big blocks of blacked-out text, but Barr wants to remove sensitive information. Greg Brower is the former assistant director for the Office of Congressional Affairs at the FBI. So he's done some redacting, it's safe to say, in his time. And he joins me now in the studio. Welcome.

GREG BROWER: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So what kinds of information would Barr want to redact? And is he obliged to redact it? Or is it really up to him?

BROWER: Well, yes and no. There are four basic categories. The first would be information in the report that might invade the privacy of individuals, perhaps minor players who were really under investigation and who are not public figures. Secondly, there is classified information that is likely to be in the report. That's a more serious matter. But Congress is used to dealing with hearing classified briefings that the public doesn't necessarily get. The third category would be grand jury information that is governed by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6. And that's also a complicated matter that is currently a matter of a lot of debate. And then finally, in a very serious and difficult to deal with - a type of information is information relating to ongoing investigations that the Department of Justice may still have ongoing - and that information about cannot be made public.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So as a journalist, I've seen whole documents that were almost totally big, black bars. What's the typical level of redaction for Congress to receive? I mean, are they expected to get the full Mueller report or, you know, or something that might look like you have no idea what's in it?

BROWER: Well, I think in terms of Congress's expectation, I think it's clear they're expecting to see everything. And in fact, there was a recent vote - as you know - in the House of Representatives - 420 to nothing to supporting the full disclosure of the report. But the devil is in the details, of course. Congress is used to, as I said, receiving information in a classified setting, classified briefings. Not every member of Congress typically receives that information. The intelligence committees in both the House and the Senate are used to receiving classified briefings. And then for the highest level of classified information, the so-called Gang of Eight regularly receives briefings of classified information.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There has been some speculation that Mueller wrote his report with the intention that not a lot of it would have to be redacted, that it was going to be written in a manner so that it could be delivered almost wholesale, at least to Congress. What do you think about that? Do you think that that might be true?

BROWER: I think it might be true. And in fact, if you look to a recent example from 2017, when the intelligence community created a document known as the intelligence community assessment, which was essentially a report on the efforts by the Russian government to interfere in the election, there was a classified version and an unclassified version. And so the idea that Mueller and his team could create a version of its report that is not really going to have to be redacted much is certainly possible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So if that's the case and if there are redactions - we don't know how many redactions there'll be. But this is a process that is taking a bit of time. So clearly, something is going on. Will that then have to be fought over? I mean, will Congress come back and say, we want to see different portions of this?

BROWER: That is likely to be the case and certainly appears to be shaping up as a fight. I think the toughest part and the part that's been receiving a lot of attention in the last few days is the grand jury information piece of this. That is something that - there is a precedent for grand jury information to be released. That's typically done when the Department of Justice does not object to the release of such information. That was the case in the so-called Haldeman decision in the Watergate era.


BROWER: Under Nixon. And that could be the case here if they - if the department decided that it would not object to the release of grand jury information, that would simplify at least that piece of it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We only have a few seconds left, but I am going to ask you this question. There is a concern, of course, that Barr's redactions will be politically motivated - there's been a lot of discussion about that - and that they will be aimed at protecting the president. Is that a concern that you share?

BROWER: Well, I - I'd like to not share that concern, frankly. And I implicitly trust the new attorney general to do the right thing in this context. But the March 24 letter that he put out was very confusing. And that has led to a lot of belief that he, perhaps, is acting for political reasons. I'd like to think that's not the case.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Greg Brower, former FBI liaison to Congress. Thanks very much.

BROWER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.