The Justice Department late Monday said it will appeal a court decision ordering the public release of a memo cited by former Attorney General William P. Barr as the reason for not charging President Trump with obstructing the Russia probe.
In a brief one-page filing, Justice Department lawyers said they will take their case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The filing came just before the midnight deadline that U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson gave the Justice Department to release the memo.
The Justice Department has also asked the U.S. district court to issue a stay order blocking the release of the memo so the appellate court has time to weigh if it should be made public.
Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington, a left-leaning open government organization that filed the lawsuit seeking the memo, slammed the Justice Department’s decision.
“We are deeply disappointed in the Justice Department‘s decision. The Department of Justice had an opportunity to come clean, turn over the memo, and close the book on the politicization and dishonesty of the past four years. Last night it chose not to do so,” the group said in a statement Tuesday morning.
“In choosing to fight Judge Jackson’s decision, the DOJ is taking a position that is legally and factually wrong and that undercuts efforts to move past the abuses of the last administration. We will be fighting this in court,” the statement continued.
Judge Jackson authored a scathing opinion earlier this month saying the memo should not be shielded from the public. An appointee of President Obama, accused the Justice Department of being “disingenuous” about its reasons for keeping the memo private.
Portions of the memo have been released to the public, but the Justice Department has bristled over releasing the full text, arguing it fell under exceptions to the public records law for attorney-client privilege and government decision-making.
A group of Senate Democrats earlier this month urged Attorney General Merrick Garland not to appeal Judge Jackson’s decision, saying in a letter that Mr. Barr’s memo needed to be exposed quickly.
“To be clear, these misrepresentations preceded your confirmation as Attorney General, but the Department you now lead bears responsibility for redressing them,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote in their letter.
Mr. Barr said in 2019 that his decision to clear Mr. Trump of obstruction came in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and other department lawyers.
As part of that process, the OLC prepared the memo at issue in Judge Jackson’s decision.
In her ruling, Judge Jackson said the memo disputes Mr. Barr’s claim that the decision to charge the president “was under his purview” because special counsel Robert Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether the president obstructed the Russia probe.
She also said it appeared that the Justice Department leadership had decided not to prosecute Mr. Trump even before Mr. Mueller submitted his final report.
“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,” she wrote.
In March 2019, Mr. Barr sent a four-page letter to Congress summarizing Mr. Mueller’s final conclusions in his investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russians who meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
Mr. Barr wrote in the letter that after consulting with the OLC, he determined that the investigation did not support charging the president with obstruction.