May 6, 2021
A federal judge this week rejected the Justice Department’s attempts to keep under wraps a departmental opinion written while Bill Barr was attorney general that instructed staff not to charge former President Donald Trump with obstruction at the end of the Mueller investigation—calling the administration’s lawyers “disingenuous.”
According to a report by CNN, the department had argued in court that the largely redacted March 2019 memo was legal reasoning that helped then-Attorney General William Barr make a decision about Trump.
But federal District Judge for the District of Columbia, Amy Berman Jackson said she believed Barr and his advisers had already decided they wouldn’t charge the President with a crime before he got the written advice, and the memo was partly strategic planning instead of legal reasoning—and, therefore, could be made public.
The decision adds to the criticism federal judges and others have had about Barr and his handling of the end of the Mueller investigation. Jackson and others have repeatedly questioned Barr’s motives to keep documents related to the investigation —including Mueller’s findings and Barr’s reactions to them—secret or by delaying their release.
“The agency’s redactions and incomplete explanations obfuscate the true purpose of the memorandum, and the excised portions belie the notion that it fell to the Attorney General to make a prosecution decision or that any such decision was on the table at any time,” Jackson wrote in a 35-page opinion released on Tuesday, May 4.
The judge’s opinion comes in a lawsuit where the government transparency group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is seeking access to DOJ documents through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
CNN reports that CREW and several other groups are still trying to pry new records from the Mueller investigation and make them available to the American public, through lawsuits and other challenges. The case Jackson decided this week deals with documents around Barr’s decision to decline to charge Trump.
The memo of supposed legal reasoning prepared for Barr should be released, Jackson ruled. A draft legal analysis from the Office of Legal Counsel would stay secret, Jackson also decided.
Research contact: @CNN