Politics Barr memo saying not to charge Trump must be released, judge says
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.
A federal judge this weekto keep secret a departmental opinion to not charge former President Donald Trump with obstruction at the end of the Mueller investigation, calling the administration's lawyers "disingenuous."
The department had argued in court that thewas 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 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.
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.
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 Tuesday.
"The fact that [Trump] would not be prosecuted was a given," she added.
Ted Lieu Says 'History Will Not Be Kind' to Bill Barr Following Mueller Report Memo Order
Lieu responded to a federal judge's order to release a memo about the ex-attorney general's decision not to charge Donald Trump over 2016 election interference.Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered the Justice Department to turn over a memo from March 2019 that Barr had cited as the reason for not charging Trump following the investigation by former special counsel Robert Mueller into claims of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The judge's opinion comes in a lawsuit where the government transparency group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is seeking access to DOJ documents through the Freedom of Information Act.
CREW and several other groups are still trying to pry new records from the Mueller investigation into the public's eye, 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.
"We requested these records and filed this lawsuit due to serious doubts about the official story coming out of Barr's DOJ. While we do not yet know what is in the memo, the Court's opinion gives us confidence that we were right to have questions," Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for CREW, said on Tuesday.
Judge's decision on Barr memo puts spotlight on secretive DOJ office
A small but powerful section of the Justice Department is under renewed scrutiny after a federal judge tore into former Attorney General William Barr and ordered the DOJ to release a memo that let President Trump claim he was exonerated by the Mueller probe.Critics of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which provides legal advice to the White House and cabinet agencies, have long argued it acts as a rubber stamp for the president and essentially drafts laws behind closed doors. The judge's accusation this week that the OLC was tasked with clearing Trump's name is only likely to increase calls for reform and greater transparency.
Behind the memo
The 9-page memo that Jackson said should be released was finalized by two top political leaders in the Justice Department -- Steven Engel of the Office of Legal Counsel and Ed O'Callaghan, a top adviser in the Deputy Attorney General's Office -- the same day Barr briefed Congress about 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 memo should stay blacked out, because it was protected internal discussions about the law and policy. One DOJ lawyer, Paul Colborn, had told the court the memo was meant to help Barr decide whether to prosecute Trump.
Engel and O'Callaghan's memo recommended no prosecution, saying that Mueller's findings weren't evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.
Jackson has read the document at issue in the case for herself, she noted. The judge said the redacted pages offer "strategic, as opposed to legal advice" to Barr. By not mentioning that in court, Jackson wrote that the DOJ was pretending the strategy discussion didn't exist.
Justice Department ordered to release memo on why Trump wasn’t charged in Mueller probe
Former Attorney General William Barr leaned heavily on the memo in declining to charge Trump with a crime, but Barr never released the document publicly.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 way the Justice Department has handled the dispute over public access to the document "served to obscure the true purpose of the memorandum," Jackson added.
Not worthy of credence, Jackson says
Jackson's strongly worded opinion, though largely about technicalities around government confidentiality, comes close to accusing the Justice Department of a cover-up.
The judge wrote that while top DOJ officials prepared the legal opinion that gave Barr cover not to prosecute Trump, they simultaneously were emailing about a higher priority they had: to inform Congress the President was exonerated.
The Mueller probe thoroughlywhere Trump tried to impede or end the inquiry into his campaign's ties to Russia. But the special counsel left the indictment decision to Barr and his top political appointees. Mueller partly found that Justice Department policy blocked the prosecution of a sitting President. After closing his office, Mueller that an ex-President could be prosecuted for obstruction, yet Barr had already reached a definitive conclusion in Trump's case.
Jackson reviewed closely how that decision came about, looking at court statements from department lawyers and internal emails between Barr's top advisers.
Justice Department officials' "affidavits [in court about the memo] are so inconsistent with evidence in the record, they are not worthy of credence," Jackson wrote.
Another federal judgein another public records case following the Mueller investigation, saying the attorney general had a "lack of candor" that was helpful to Trump politically when the then-attorney general told Congress and announced to the public what Mueller had found, without releasing Mueller's nearly 500-page report.
Byron York's Daily Memo: Dealing with Trump .
Welcome to Byron York's Daily Memo newsletter.DEALING WITH TRUMP. In the last few days former President Donald Trump and people around him have been dropping more and more hints that Trump will run for president in 2024.