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Judge Says Barr Misled on How His Justice Dept. Viewed Trump’s Actions

  • May 05, 2021

At issue is how Mr. Barr handled the end of the Mueller investigation and the release of its findings to the public. In March 2019, the office of the special counsel overseeing the inquiry, Robert S. Mueller III, delivered its report to the Justice Department. In a highly unusual decision, Mr. Mueller declined to make a determination about whether Mr. Trump had illegally obstructed justice.

That opened the door for Mr. Barr to take control of the investigation. Two days after receiving the report, Mr. Barr sent a four-page letter to Congress saying that Mr. Trump would not be charged with obstructing justice and summarizing the report. Mr. Mueller’s team believed that Mr. Barr’s characterization of the document was misleading and privately urged him to release more of their findings, but Mr. Barr refused.

About a month later, around the time that the report was released to the public, Mr. Barr testified to Congress that he had made the decision not to charge Mr. Trump “in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other department lawyers,” and that the decision to clear the president of wrongdoing had been left to Mr. Barr because Mr. Mueller had made no determination about whether Mr. Trump broke the law.

Judge Jackson said in the ruling that Mr. Barr had been disingenuous in those assertions, adding that it had not been left to him to make the decision about the prosecution.

She also said that in the litigation between the government and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Justice Department under Mr. Barr had claimed that the memo, written by his top officials, had been about legal advice he had relied on to make the decision and should be shielded from the public.

Under federal law, the Justice Department can claim that such advice should be shielded because it is “deliberative” and the possibility of releasing it could keep advisers from giving their unvarnished counsel because they fear it may become public someday.

But instead, Judge Jackson wrote, Mr. Barr and his aides had already decided not to bring charges against Mr. Trump. She reprimanded the department for portraying the memo as part of deliberations over whether to prosecute the president. She noted that she had been allowed to read the full memo before making her decision, over the objections of the Justice Department, and that it revealed that “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.”

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