WASHINGTON – (AP) A federal judge has ordered the release of a legal memorandum that the Trump-era Justice Department prepared for then-Attorney General William Barr before announcing his finding that the president Donald Trump did not obstruct justice during the Russia investigation.
The justice ministry had refused to hand over the memorandum of March 24, 2019 to a government transparency group that requested it under the Freedom of Information Act, claiming that the document represented the private counsels of lawyers and had been produced before a formal decision was taken and was therefore exempt from disclosure under the Public Archives Act.
But U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the Justice Department obscured the memorandum’s true purpose by withholding the document.
She said the note from the Justice Department’s legal counsel’s office contained policy advice, as opposed to legal advice, and that the editors and addressees already had a common understanding of the prosecution’s decision. She said that meant it wasn’t like the ministry had upheld the predecision. “
In other words, examination of the document reveals that the Attorney General was not then engaged in making the decision as to whether the President should be charged with obstruction of justice; it was obvious that he would not be prosecuted, Jackson said in an order dated Monday.
The decision by Barr and senior Justice Department officials to clear Trump from obstruction, even though Special Advocate Robert Mueller and his team did not come to that conclusion, was an important moment for the president. The announcement and a four-page summary of Mueller’s report preceded the release of the 448-page document and helped shape public perception of the investigation’s findings. Mueller subsequently complained to Barr that his summary failed to fully reflect the findings of the investigation and confused the public.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a public records request seeking disclosures of the obstruction decision after Barr said he and other senior officials came to that conclusion in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice to executive branch agencies.
At issue in a pending trial before the judge, there were two particular documents that the group wanted.
Jackson ruled that one of the documents, described by a Justice Department official as an untitled and undated draft legal analysis “submitted to the Attorney General as part of his decision making, had been properly withheld from the group.
But she ordered the release of the other memo, which was prepared for Barr by the then chief of the Legal Counsel’s Office and another senior Justice Department official, and which concludes that the evidence gathered by Mueller’s team would not support an obstructionist prosecution of Trump. .
In his order, Jackson noted that the memo prepared for Barr, and Barr’s letter to Congress that describes the special advocate’s report, are “written by the same people at the same time.”
The emails show not only that the authors and recipients of the memorandum are working hand in hand to craft the advice that is supposed to be provided by the OLC, but that the letter to Congress is the priority, and that it is completed first. , the judge wrote.
The judge said the Justice Department has until May 17 to file a motion to stay the order.
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