A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Justice Department to turn over a 2019 internal memo that then-Attorney General William P. Barr cited as the reason for not charging former President Donald Trump with obstruction of justice.
In a biting decision, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson gave the Justice Department two weeks to release the memo, saying it should not be shielded from the public.
Judge Jackson, who was appointed by President Obama, also blasted the Justice Department for 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.
Judge Jackson concluded those claims were unfounded and inconsistent with her review of the unredacted memo.
“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 the time,” she wrote in a 41-page opinion.
The Justice Department can appeal the ruling. A department spokesperson declined to comment.
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.
Judge Jackson’s decision was in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the liberal watchdog group, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
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