A government watchdog group Thursday urged the Justice Department inspector general to investigate the department’s efforts to conceal a memo former Attorney General William P. Barr used to clear then-President Trump of obstructing the Russia collusion probe.
The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) requested Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz investigate whether department attorneys committed perjury or other crimes in an attempt to shield the memo from the public.
It also called for an investigation into the four department lawyers who fought to keep the memo shrouded in secrecy amid a lawsuit by another government transparency group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
“If it turns out that they committed crimes in the process of doing so, they will have magnified the harm to the department’s already damaged reputation and compounded the effect of Barr’s lies to the American people,” POGO wrote in a letter to Mr. Horowitz.
The lawyers told a federal judge that the memo, prepared by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, justified Mr. Barr’s decision to clear Mr. Trump of obstructing the probe of special counsel Robert Mueller into whether the president or his campaign colluded with Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
But Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in a scathing opinion last month that the memo was written to support a conclusion that Mr. Barr already reached.
She also accused department lawyers of being “disingenuous” about the need to keep the memo private.
“If, as Judge Jackson appears to have found is the case, these four lawyers misled a federal court, they have done incalculable harm to the public’s trust in government. It would mean senior officials in the nation’s highest law enforcement agency concealed a matter of national concern relating directly to the integrity of the office of the president,” POGO wrote in its letter.
“These shocking findings cry out for those responsible to be fired and prosecuted unless they can offer a defense presently unknown to the public,” the letter continued.
Judge Jackson ordered the Justice Department to release an unredacted version of the memo to the public, but the department has appealed that decision.