A watchdog group has filed a brief opposing the Justice Department’s push to keep secret former Attorney General William Barr’s memo concerning ex-President Donald Trump’s possible obstruction of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
“The DOJ must produce the document, clean up the department, and show that it will not be used for the personal protection of any president,” the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said in a statement Friday after it filed the brief. CREW initially sought release of the memo through the Freedom of Information Act.
At issue is Barr’s decision to ignore any obstruction of justice issues concerning Trump despite strong evidence against him revealed by then-special counsel Robert Mueller. Critics said Barr misled the public by cherry-picking quotes from Mueller’s report to protect Trump. They accused him of making a political decision rather than a legal one.
Barr claimed that justification for the lack of any action against Trump was carefully considered and spelled out in the memo, which had previously only been made public in a highly redacted form.
But according to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who ordered the release of the nine-page memo earlier this month, Barr’s decision was a foregone conclusion. Barr had already made up his mind not to prosecute Trump before considering any of the advice or analysis that he claimed informed his decision, she said in her order.
Jackson added that the memo contained “strategic, as opposed to legal, advice” and that both the writers and the recipients already had a mutual understanding about what the prosecutorial decision would be.
A “review of the document reveals that the Attorney General was not 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,” the judge wrote in the order.
The Justice Department moved for a stay on May 24 to prepare arguments to continue to shield the contents of the memo. A small portion of the memo the department did release included a discussion “aimed at publicly spinning the damning findings of the Mueller Report into a vindication of Donald Trump,” CREW said in a statement last Tuesday.
“Trump’s obstruction of justice” in the Mueller probe and Barr’s role in “distorting” Mueller’s findings about it to the public “prevent both Trump and Barr from being held fully accountable for their actions,” CREW said in its Friday statement.
“Releasing the memo in full is a necessary step toward that accountability,” the group added.