USA TODAY US Edition
Judge rebukes Barr, orders release of Trump memo
She says Justice misled court over obstruction
WASHINGTON – A federal judge blasted the Trump Justice Department for misleading the court about the nature of its internal deliberations before concluding that then-President Donald Trump had not obstructed former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered the release of a 2019 legal memorandum to a government accountability group, ruling the document prepared for then-Attorney General William Barr as he considered his decision did not qualify as protected attorney-client communications.
In the ruling, Jackson characterized the memo as a “strategic” document, asserting that Justice Department officials had come to a predetermined conclusion that Trump would not be charged with obstruction of justice.
“In other words, 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,” Jackson ruled.
The memo had been requested by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government.
Jackson, who presided over Mueller prosecutions involving former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and political adviser Roger Stone, also aimed scathing criticism at Barr for his handling of the Mueller report, citing the attorney general’s decision to issue a brief summary of its findings only days after receiving the voluminous 448page report.
“The Attorney General’s characterization of what he’d hardly had time to skim, much less, study closely, prompted an immediate reaction, as politicians and pundits took to their microphones and Twitter feeds to decry what they feared was an attempt to hide the ball,” the judge wrote.
“Even the customarily taciturn Special Counsel was moved to pen an extraordinary public rebuke on March 27,” the judge wrote, referring to a 2019 letter Mueller wrote to Barr.
In the letter, Mueller said Barr’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.”
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a public records request seeking communications about the obstruction decision after Barr said that he and other senior officials had reached that conclusion in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel.
At issue in a lawsuit pending before the judge were two documents the group wanted.
Jackson ruled that one of the documents, described by a Justice Department official as an “untitled, undated draft legal analysis” was properly withheld from the group.
But she ordered the release of the other memo, which concludes that the evidence from Mueller’s team would not support an obstruction prosecution.