Unredacted memo from Barr details DOJ justification for not charging Trump

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday released an unredacted version of a memo prepared for former Attorney General William Barr that it used to justify its decision not to indict President Trump after reviewing the Mueller report. .

The memo was released following a lawsuit by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which sought to uncover legal advice Barr had received from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).

The lawsuit prompted the DOJ to release a redacted version of the memo in 2021 that completely blocked out six of the memo’s 10 pages.

The now fully unredacted memo details a Justice Department warning against any lawsuits by Trump stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into any coordination between his campaign and Russia as that country seeks to interfere with the US elections.

The 2019 memo to Barr came just two days after Mueller released his 400-plus-page report to the DOJ, and was finalized just hours after Barr sent a letter to Congress saying he didn’t see no grounds for prosecution.

The OLC memo largely elaborates an argument for denying prosecution of an attorney general who, at the time, was fiercely loyal to Trump.

He hangs much of his analysis on a line in the Mueller report indicating that there was not enough evidence to charge anyone in the Trump campaign, or the president himself, with conspiring alongside members of the Russian government to interfere in the elections.

“Given this finding, the evidence does not establish a crime or criminal conspiracy involving the president to whom obstruction or attempted obstruction was directed. It would be rare for federal prosecutors to prosecute obstruction that does not arise not itself of separate crime proceedings,” OLC chief Steven Engle and his deputy Edward O’Callaghan wrote in the memo.

He goes on to describe Trump’s “potentially obstructive conduct” as “an attempt to alter the process under which the special counsel’s investigation has progressed.”

CREW President Noah Bookbinder called the memo “a breathtaking view of law and fact for Donald Trump.”

“This distorts the facts and the law to benefit Trump and does not correspond to a serious reading of the Obstruction of Justice Act or the facts as discovered by Special Counsel Mueller,” Bookbinder wrote on Twitter.

“The memo is largely based on the argument that there was no underlying criminal conduct and that it is difficult to charge obstruction without an underlying crime. Of course, that’s not what Mueller found. … Mueller found there was not enough evidence to charge Trump and others with conspiring with Russia. He found no crime, just not enough evidence to charge them,” he added.

The 448-page Mueller report, which was released in April 2019 nearly a month after Barr’s letter to Congress, examined several episodes of possible obstruction of justice, including Trump’s firing of the FBI Director of James Comey at the time, and his efforts to pressure the then Attorney General. Jeff Sessions to reconsider his decision to withdraw from the Russia investigation.

Ultimately, Mueller’s team wrote that they were unable to say with certainty that Trump had not obstructed justice.

“While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it does not exonerate him either,” the report said.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has come under pressure from some legal analysts and others on the left to reconsider the obstruction of justice case against Trump.

The release of the unredacted memo follows a ruling last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in CREW’s long-running May 2019 lawsuit. by a three-judge appeals court panel, upheld a federal judge’s finding that the DOJ improperly redacted the memorandum and ordered its full disclosure.

The legal development amounted to a stern rebuke of the department’s assertion that the memo should be protected by an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act that protects internal government deliberations.

The appeals court ruling upheld a lower court finding that the memo did not reflect a deliberative process in part because Barr had already decided not to indict Trump before the memo was finalized.

“Because the Department did not tie the memorandum to the relevant decision deliberations, the Department failed to justify its reliance on deliberative process privilege,” Chief Justice Sri Srinivasan wrote for the panel.

Morgan Chalfant contributed to it.

Update: 7:01 p.m.

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