(CNN)A federal judge this week rejected the Justice Department’s attempts to keep secret a departmental opinion to not charge former President Donald Trump with obstruction at the end of the Mueller investigation, calling the administration’s lawyers “disingenuous.”
The department had argued in court that the largely redacted March 2019 memo was legal reasoning that helped then-Attorney General William Barr make a decision about Trump. But federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson said she believed Barr and his advisers had already decided they wouldn’t charge the President with a crime before he got the written advice, and the memo was partly strategic planning instead of legal reasoning — and therefore could be made public.
The decision adds to the criticism federal judges and others have had about Barr and his handling of the end of the Mueller investigation. Jackson and others have repeatedly questioned Barr’s motives to keep documents related to the investigation — including Mueller’s findings and Barr’s reactions to them — secret or by delaying their release.
“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 any time,” Jackson wrote in a 35-page opinion released Tuesday.
“The fact that [Trump] would not be prosecuted was a given,” she added.
The judge’s opinion comes in a lawsuit where the government transparency group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is seeking access to DOJ documents through the Freedom of Information Act.
CREW and several other groups are still trying to pry new records from the Mueller investigation into the public’s eye, through lawsuits and other challenges. The case Jackson decided this week deals with documents around Barr’s decision to decline to charge Trump.
The memo of supposed legal reasoning prepared for Barr should be released, Jackson ruled. A draft legal analysis from the Office of Legal Counsel would stay secret, Jackson also decided.
“We requested these records and filed this lawsuit due to serious doubts about the official story coming out of Barr’s DOJ. While we do not yet know what is in the memo, the Court’s opinion gives us confidence that we were right to have questions,” Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for CREW, said on Tuesday.
Behind the memo
The 9-page memo that Jackson said should be released was finalized by two top political leaders in the Justice Department — Steven Engel of the Office of Legal Counsel and Ed O’Callaghan, a top adviser in the Deputy Attorney General’s Office — the same day Barr briefed Congress about Mueller’s findings on Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice.
The Justice Department had argued in court that much of the substance of Engel and O’Callaghan’s
Secret William Barr memo saying not to charge Trump must be released, judge says
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