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Judge Orders Justice Department To Release Trump Obstruction Memo

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 investigation into Russia.

The justice ministry 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 US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the Justice Department obscured “the true purpose of the memorandum” by withholding the document. She said the memo from the Justice Department’s legal counsel’s office contained “policy advice, as opposed to legal advice” and that the editors and recipients already had a common understanding of what the prosecution’s decision would be. . She said that meant he was not – as the department had argued – “pre-sentence”.

“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 wouldn’t 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 had failed to fully reflect the findings of the investigation and had “confused the public.”

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a public record request seeking disclosures of the obstruction decision after Barr said he and other senior officials reached that conclusion in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel. The group has taken legal action to gain access to two specific documents.

Jackson ruled that one of the documents, described by a Justice Department official as an “untitled and undated legal analysis project,” 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 a letter to Congress describing 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.

Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http: //www.twitter.com.etuckerAP

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