Barr memo saying not to indict Trump must be released, judge says

The ministry argued in court that the Memorandum largely written in March 2019 was legal reasoning that helped then Attorney General William Barr make a decision about Trump. But Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson said she believed Barr and his advisers had already decided not to charge the president with a felony before he received the written notice, and the memo was partly strategic planning instead of legal reasoning – and could therefore be made public.

The ruling comes on top of criticism federal judges and others have leveled about Barr and his handling of the end of the Mueller investigation. Jackson and others have repeatedly questioned Barr’s motives for keeping investigation-related documents secret – including Mueller’s findings and Barr’s reactions to them – or for delaying their release.

“The agency’s redactions and incomplete explanations obscure the true purpose of the memorandum, and the excised parties deny that the attorney general was responsible for making a prosecution decision or that such a decision was on the way. table at all times, ”Jackson wrote. in a 35-page notice published on Tuesday.

“The fact that [Trump] would not be prosecuted was obvious, ”she added.

The judge’s opinion comes in connection with a lawsuit where the government transparency group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington seeks access to DOJ documents through the Freedom of Information Act.

CREW and several other groups are still trying to deflect public attention from new Mueller Inquiry records, through lawsuits and other challenges. The case Jackson decided this week involves documents relating to Barr’s decision to refuse to indict Trump.

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The supposed legal reasoning memo prepared for Barr is expected to be released, Jackson said. A draft legal analysis from the Legal Counsel’s Office would remain under wraps, Jackson also ruled.

“We requested these records and filed this complaint because of serious doubts about the official history of Barr’s DOJ. While we do not yet know what is in the memo, the court’s opinion gives us certainty. that we were right to have questions, ”Jordan Libowitz, a spokesperson for CREW, said Tuesday.

Behind the memo

The 9-page memo which Jackson said should be released was finalized by two senior political leaders in the Department of Justice – Steven Engel of the Office of the Legal Counsel and Ed O’Callaghan, a senior advisor to the Office of the Deputy Prosecutor. General – On the same day, Barr briefed Congress on Mueller’s findings on Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice.

The Justice Department had argued in court that much of the substance of Engel and O’Callaghan’s note should remain withheld, as they were protected internal discussions of law and policy. DOJ attorney Paul Colborn told the court the note was meant to help Barr decide whether to prosecute Trump.

Engel and O’Callaghan’s memo recommended not to prosecute, saying Mueller’s conclusions were not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Jackson read the document at issue in the case for herself, she noted. The judge said the redacted pages offered “strategic advice, as opposed to legal advice” to Barr. By not mentioning this in court, Jackson wrote that the DOJ was claiming that the strategic discussion did not exist.

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The way the Justice Department handled the dispute over public access to the document “served to obscure the true purpose of the memorandum,” Jackson added.

Not trustworthy, says Jackson

Jackson’s strongly expressed opinion, though largely on the technicalities of government confidentiality, comes close to accusing the Justice Department of cover-up.

The judge wrote that while senior DOJ officials prepared the legal opinion that gave Barr the cover of not prosecuting Trump, they simultaneously emailed about a higher priority they had: informing the Congress that the president was exonerated.

The Mueller Inquiry extensively investigated several episodes where Trump attempted to obstruct or terminate the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia. But the special advocate left the impeachment decision to Barr and his top politicians. Mueller partially concluded that Justice Department policy blocked the prosecution of a sitting president. After closing his office, Mueller later told Congress that a former president could be prosecuted for obstruction, but Barr had already come to a final conclusion in Trump’s case.

Jackson took a close look at how that decision was made, reviewing forensic statements from the department’s attorneys and internal emails between Barr’s senior advisers.

Affidavits of Department of Justice officials [in court about the memo] are so inconsistent with the evidence on the record, they are unreliable, ”Jackson wrote.

Another federal judge had previously criticized Barr in another public records case following the Mueller inquiry, saying the attorney general had a “lack of candor” that had been helpful to Trump politically when the attorney general in the era had told Congress and announced to the public what Mueller had found. , without publishing Mueller’s nearly 500-page report.

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