Politics Justice Department ordered to release memo on why Trump wasn’t charged in Mueller probe
Redacted Justice Department memo on Trump and obstruction raises fresh questions about Barr's handling of Mueller probe
A federal judge's ruling this week ordering the release of a redacted Justice Department memo recommending that former President Donald Trump should not be charged with obstruction of justice could place new scrutiny on then-Attorney General William Barr's handling of the Mueller investigation. © Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images Attorney General William Barr participates in a press conference at the Department of Justice along with DOJ officials on February 10, 2020 in Washington, DC.
A federal judge has ordered the Justice Department to release a confidential memo that former Attorney General William Barr cited as justification for not charging ex-President Donald Trump with obstructing Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia.
The March 24, 2019 memo was crafted by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to review the Mueller report’s refusal to exonerate Trump of obstruction — and Barr leaned heavily on the document in declining to charge the former president with a crime.
Still, Barr never released the memo publicly, prompting government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) to sue the Justice Department on freedom of information grounds.
Opinion: Bill Barr's indefensible defense of Trump isn't fooling this federal judge
Elie Honig writes that new revelations in a Washington, DC, lawsuit make clear the depths of the fundamental dishonesty that marred William Barr's tenure as attorney general.We already knew that former Attorney General Bill Barr grossly misled Congress and the public about the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Turns out, it's even worse than that. New revelations in a Washington, DC, lawsuit make clear the depths of the fundamental dishonesty that marred Barr's tenure as attorney general.
In a ruling released Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson sided with CREW and ordered the department to release the memo because she wrote that it obscured the document’s “true purpose” in withholding it.
Former President Donald Trump and ex-Attorney General William Barr. (Alex Brandon/)
Despite Barr’s claims to the contrary, Berman wrote that the memo contained “strategic, as opposed to legal advice” and that both the Office of Legal Counsel and the attorney general knew beforehand that there would not be any attempt by the Justice Department to charge Trump with a crime.
“In other words, the review of the document reveals that the Attorney General was not then engaged in making a decision about whether the President should be charged with obstruction of justice; the fact that he would not be prosecuted was a given,” Jackson wrote.
Donald Trump Obstruction Memo Was a Fig Leaf for Bill Barr, Judge Says, Ordering Release
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson had harsh words Monday for former Attorney General William Barr, saying the Justice Department should not have withheld a memo from a watchdog group. © Michael Reynolds/Getty Judge Amy Berman Jackson said former Attorney General William Barr, shown here at a news conference about the 1988 Lockerbie Bombing held December 21, 2020, was not correct to withhold a memo from a Freedom of Information Act request by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Jackson gave the Justice Department two weeks to reply whether it intends to abide by her order or challenge it in a higher jurisdiction.
A spokesman for the department did not return a request for comment, and neither did a representative for Trump.
Barr cleared Trump of obstruction and conspiracy to help Russia interfere in the 2016 election in a four-page summary released in late March 2019, delivering a major victory for the former president weeks before Mueller’s full 448-page report saw the light of day.
Mueller — who wrote in his report that he could neither “conclude that the president committed a crime” nor “exonerate him” — later complained to Barr that the brief summary didn’t accurately reflect his findings and caused “public confusion.” At that point, however, Trump had already seized on Barr’s summary to bolster his claim that Mueller’s probe was a political “witch hunt.”
Meet Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, the Republican power couple caught up in the FBI's Rudy Giuliani investigation .
Toensing and diGenova have been Republican fixtures for decades and were instrumental in the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump's first impeachment.That same morning, at 6:30 a.m., FBI agents showed up to the Washington, DC-area home of Victoria Toensing to execute a search warrant, taking one of her cell phones, a person familiar with the events told Insider.