An ethics watchdog wants the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate whether members of the Trump administration pressured officials to hide the “true nature” of a memo cited by former Attorney General William P. Barr in the decision to forgo charging the former president with obstruction.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter Wednesday to Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz asking him to probe alleged “politicization” of the Freedom of Information Act processes over the last four years.
CREW says recent decisions in memo-related FOIA lawsuits “raise serious questions about whether political leadership at DOJ pressured career officials to engage in potentially sanctionable conduct by hiding the true nature of the contents and purpose of an Office of Legal Counsel (‘OLC’) memorandum.”
The letter comes one month after a district judge dealt a blow to CREW by granting the DOJ‘s request to temporarily pause her order to release the second part of the memo.
The memo was written by the OLC in 2019 after then-special counsel Robert Mueller released his report on whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Mr. Barr reportedly requested the OLC compile a legal opinion on the matter after Mr. Mueller refused to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” as to whether Mr. Trump should be charged.
The first part of the memo was already made public, but District Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote in the ruling that the DOJ needed time to appeal her order, because, “without a stay, the battle would be lost before it begins.”
Judge Jackson also pushed back on the DOJ‘s characterization of the memo as justification for Mr. Barr’s decision to clear Mr. Trump of any wrongdoing.
“DOJ suggested that it was the Barr Memo that prompted the Attorney General to speak, when it appears that the decision to speak prompted the Barr Memo,” she wrote in a nine-page ruling.
The judge also said that the agency failed to prove that the memo is protected by deliberative process and attorney-client privileges.
CREW cited the judge’s ruling in the letter and said the DOJ “undermined” the FOIA system by making “false and misleading declarations that mischaracterized both the nature of the OLC memo at issue and the supposed harm to DOJ should the court order disclosure.”
“It would be an obvious miscarriage of justice if DOJ failed to investigate whether Department leadership pressured career officials to advance legally and factually flawed arguments to a United States district court and risk sanctions,” the group said.