Secret Trump-Russia Memo Partially Released but DOJ to Fight Judge's Full Disclosure Order

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has released a portion of memo from March 2019 used to justify not charging then-President Donald Trump of potential obstruction of justice following the Robert Mueller investigation, and vowed to fight a federal judge's order to release the whole unredacted document.

In a court ruling on May 3, District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who was appointed to the bench by Barack Obama, ordered the DOJ to release the legal memo within two weeks in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in May 2019 by the watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW).

The deadline was later extended to May 24. In her May 3 decision, Jackson had excoriated former Attorney General William Barr on the manner in which he publicly disclosed the findings in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's 2019 report into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

On Monday night, the DOJ released part of the memo used in 2019 to justify not charging Trump with obstruction, but it also said it would fight the judge's effort to make the entire document public. The document argues that even without important constitutional reasons not to accuse the president of a crime, Mueller did not gather enough evidence to prosecute, even if Trump were not president.

The 2019 memo was prepared by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which has consistently said criminal charges could not be brought against a sitting president.

The department has argued that the full memo should not be released because it falls under exceptions to the public records law for attorney-client privilege and deliberative government decision-making, according to The Hill.

However, Jackson has said that those claims were not consistent with her own review of the unredacted memo or of the timeline revealed by internal emails among senior DOJ officials.

Newsweek has contacted the DOJ and the Office of Donald Trump for comment.

In her May 3 court ruling, Judge Jackson accused Barr of being "disingenuous" in summarizing the Mueller probe and not releasing the full report immediately.

"Not only was the Attorney General being disingenuous then, but DOJ has been disingenuous to this Court with respect to the existence of a decision-making process that should be shielded by the deliberative process privilege," Jackson said.

"The agency's redactions and incomplete explanations obfuscate the true purpose of the memorandum, and the excised portions belie the notion that it fell to the Attorney General to make a prosecution decision or that any such decision was on the table at any time," she added.

Mueller's 448-page report was submitted to Barr on March 22, 2019. In it, Special Counsel Robert Mueller had stopped short of implicating Trump in committing crimes of obstruction of justice. He has however publicly said it did not exonerate the former president of them. The report also detailed several instances where Trump tried to get Mueller fired.

At the time, Barr did not share the full report and instead sent a summary to congressional leaders, which was made public. Barr referred to the OLC memo, saying that the evidence in the report was not sufficient to bring charges against Trump, regardless of the fact that he was president. This is the episode that Judge Jackson calls "disingenuous." A redacted version of the Mueller report was released three weeks later in April 2019.

In her May 3 ruling, Jackson wrote: "The Attorney General's characterization of what he'd hardly had time to skim, much less, study closely, prompted an immediate reaction, as politicians and pundits took to their microphones and Twitter feeds to decry what they feared was an attempt to hide the ball."

"Moreover, the redacted portions of Section I reveal that both the authors and the recipient of the memorandum had a shared understanding concerning whether prosecuting the President was a matter to be considered at all," she wrote. "In other words, the review of the document reveals that the Attorney General was not then 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."

Jackson pointed out that Mueller called for the immediate release of his report, but it remained under wraps for another three weeks.

Bill Barr in DC
Former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr holds a news conference to provide an update on the investigation of the terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on the 32nd anniversary of the attack, at the Department of Justice December 21, 2020 in Washington, D.C. A federal judge has ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ), which Barr led until 2020, to release the full legal memo from March 2019 that justified not charging former President Donald Trump of potential obstruction of justice following the Mueller investigation. Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty