The Biden DOJ is trying to block the release of a 2019 memo that outlined reasons not to prosecute Trump after the Mueller report

merrick garland
Attorney General Merrick Garland.

  • The Department of Justice is appealing the full release of a 2019 memo on the Mueller report.
  • Then-AG Bill Barr cited the memo among his grounds to not charge Trump with obstruction of justice.
  • A federal judge recently ordered the release of the document, saying Barr was misleading.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Department of Justice has said it will appeal a federal court order requiring it to release a 2019 memo that was cited by then-Attorney General Bill Barr as grounds not to charge former President Donald Trump with obstruction of justice following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

The memo was written by officials at the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, and addressed the evidence in the Mueller report on whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election, and whether Trump sought to obstruct Mueller’s investigation.

Barr had cited the memo as one of his reasons not to bring charges against Trump on the basis of the report.

Then-President Donald Trump and then-Attorney General Bill Barr in the White House Rose Garden in July 2019.

But in a May 5 ruling, federal judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered that the memo be released, arguing that the DOJ’s grounds for keeping it sealed on the basis that it is a “deliberative document” were false.

Berman made the ruling following a Freedom of Information Act request from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.

Under Freedom of Information Act rules, “deliberative documents” that are used to make government decisions are exempt from public release.

The unredacted document is expected to provide new insights into one of the key controversies of the Trump era: Why the president was not charged by his DOJ with obstruction despite some evidence in the report indicating that he had sought to derail the Mueller probe.

Barr was heavily criticized after the release of the Mueller report, with some saying he misled the public ahead of the release about the seriousness of the misconduct that Mueller’s investigators uncovered.

A heavily redacted, 1 1/2-page report was released Monday night

The DOJ released a page and a half of the memo on Monday night, with large sections of the document analyzing Trump’s conduct as described in the Mueller report from a legal perspective still redacted.

Mueller had declined to reach a conclusion on the accusation Trump obstructed justice, citing DOJ rules against bringing charges against a sitting president.

But in the unredacted sections just released, officials at the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote that Mueller’s position “might be read to imply such an accusation if the confidential report were released to the public.”

“Therefore, we recommend that you examine the Report to determine whether prosecution would be appropriate” to resolve any potential legal ambiguity,” the memo said.

The newly-released memo said that there was insufficient evidence in the Mueller report to charge Trump with obstruction, but the specific grounds by which they reached that decision were unclear as that part remains redacted.

In her order for the DOJ memo to be released, Judge Jackson argued that Barr had falsely claimed that he was acting on the basis of the document in not charging Trump, whereas in reality he had made the decision already.

In its Monday filing, the DOJ said that “its briefs [to the court] could have been clearer, and it deeply regrets the confusion that caused. But the government’s counsel and declarants did not intend to mislead the Court.”

‘Detrimental to what American democracy is all about’

In a Monday interview with MSNBC, Neal Katyal, who served as acting Solicitor general under former President Barack Obama, slammed the DOJ’s decision to appeal the release of the ful report.

“We waited and waited and waited and to bury this is, I think, detrimental to what American democracy is all about,” he remarked.

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