On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that a secret memo issued by then-Attorney General William Barr to shield former President Donald Trump from prosecution must be released to the public, CNN reports.
In her ruling, Judge Amy Berman Jackson 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.”
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, CNN reported.
As noted by CNN, “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 memo should stay blacked out, because it was protected internal discussions about the law and policy. One DOJ lawyer, Paul Colborn, had told the court the memo was meant to help Barr decide whether to prosecute Trump.
Engel and O’Callaghan’s memo recommended no prosecution, saying that Mueller’s findings weren’t evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.
Jackson has read the document at issue in the case for herself, she noted. The judge said the redacted pages offer “strategic, as opposed to legal advice” to Barr. By not mentioning that in court, Jackson wrote that the DOJ was pretending the strategy discussion didn’t exist.
The way the Justice Department has handled the dispute over public access to the document “served to obscure the true purpose of the memorandum,” Jackson added.
Not worthy of credence, Jackson says
Jackson’s strongly worded opinion comes close to accusing the Justice Department of a cover-up.
The judge wrote that while top DOJ officials prepared the legal opinion that gave Barr cover not to prosecute Trump, they simultaneously were emailing about a higher priority they had: to inform Congress the President was exonerated.
The Mueller probe thoroughly investigated several episodes where Trump tried to impede or end the inquiry into his campaign’s ties to Russia. But the special counsel left the indictment decision to Barr and his top political appointees. Mueller partly found that Justice Department policy blocked the prosecution of a sitting President. After closing his office, Mueller later told to Congress that an ex-President could be prosecuted for obstruction, yet Barr had already reached a definitive conclusion in Trump’s case.”
Read the entire report at CNN.