Aug 24, 2022 - Politics & Policy

DOJ releases 2019 memo on Barr's decision not to charge Trump with obstruction

Former Attorney General Bill Barr speaking during a news conference in Washington, D.C, in December 2020.
Former Attorney General Bill Barr speaking during a news conference in Washington, D.C, in December 2020. Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Department of Justice on Wednesday released a 2019 memorandum supporting then-Attorney General Bill Barr's decision to clear former President Donald Trump of obstruction of justice in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Why it matters: The nine-page memo sheds light on Barr's decision to not charge Trump with obstruction even though Mueller did not exonerate him of and provided evidence of obstructive actions taken by the former president throughout the investigation into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Details: Steven Engel, the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel, and Edward O’Callaghan, a former senior DOJ official, concluded in the memo that Mueller did “not identify sufficient evidence to prove any criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt."

  • They also concluded in the memo, which was addressed to then-deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, that none of the obstructive episodes provided by Mueller “would warrant a prosecution for obstruction of justice."
  • “Having reviewed the Report in light of the governing legal principles, and the Principles of Federal Prosecution, we conclude that none of those instances would warrant a prosecution for obstruction of justice, without regard to the constitutional constraint on bringing such an action against a sitting president,” Engel and O’Callaghan wrote.

The big picture: The memo was the subject of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Justice Department from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a governmental watchdog group.

  • The group argued the Justice Department wrongly withheld it from the public, who deserved to know the rationale for not charging Trump.
  • The Justice Department argued the memo should not be made public because it was used in internal deliberations over a prosecutorial decision.
  • A federal appeals court rejected the DOJ's argument last week and ordered that it be made public.
  • In May 2021, a federal judge ordered the release of the memo, calling the DOJ's argument "disingenuous."

What they're saying: "The memo supports the chilling conclusion that any president can interfere with any investigation if they believe it could damage them politically. It is clear why Barr did not want the public to see it," CREW said in a statement Wednesday.

  • "The memo presents a breathtakingly generous view of the law and facts for Donald Trump," the group added.
  • "It significantly twists the facts and the law to benefit Donald Trump and does not comport with a serious reading of the law of obstruction of justice or the facts as found by Special Counsel Mueller."
  • "Among many other problems, it is premised on the fact that there was no underlying criminal conduct, which is not what Mueller found, and waves its hand at there being no exact precedent to compare it to."

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