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Judge orders Justice Dept. to release Trump memo over Russia investigation

Former Attorney General William Barr was criticized in a ruling issued by a federal judge late Monday over his handling of former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation report into Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Pool Photo by Michael Reynolds/UPI
Former Attorney General William Barr was criticized in a ruling issued by a federal judge late Monday over his handling of former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation report into Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Pool Photo by Michael Reynolds/UPI | License Photo

May 5 (UPI) -- A federal judge has ordered the Justice Department to release a secretive memo officials cited in 2019 as reason to not prosecute then-President Donald Trump with obstructing an investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The opinion released late Monday by Judge Amy Berman Jackson gives the department two weeks to hand over the memo to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, who had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for it.

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"It is time for the public to see that [memo]," she said in her 41-page opinion.

The opinion comes in a case linked to a two-year investigation by former special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

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Upon the investigation's completion, Mueller on March 22, 2019, gave the highly anticipated report to then-Attorney General William Barr.

Days later, Barr, who was appointed by Trump, issued a four-page summary that said there was not enough evidence to charge the president with obstruction of justice.

The next month while delivering the report to Congress, Barr said he and his department reached its decision to not prosecute the president "in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other department lawyers."

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The report, which was released that same day, says there was not enough evidence of collusion between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia for charges but it lists some 10 episodes in which obstruction of justice charges against Trump were considered, and CREW sent off a FIOA request for the information on how the Justice Department came to its decision not to prosecute Trump.

The Justice Department had argued against releasing the memo on the grounds of attorney-client privileges and that it was protected under the deliberative process privilege.

Jackson, who has seen the memo, sided against the department's arguments, saying the memo's authors and its recipient had a shared understanding they would not charge the president.

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"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," wrote Jackson.

Jackson also said the memo is "a blend of legal and strategic advice" by those who were also drafting Barr's letter to Congress explaining the department's decision to not pursue charges.

"Along with the redacted portions of the memorandum, the chronology undermines the assertion that the authors were engaged in providing their legal advice in connection with any sort of pending prosecutorial decision," she said, adding, "[t]he government's failure to meet its burden to establish the legal ground for its invocation of the two privileges asserted means that the record must be produced."

She also criticized Barr over his four-page letter that prompted Trump, his supporters and allies to declare him as fully exonerated.

"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," she wrote.

Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for CREW, said Tuesday that they filed the FOIA over "serious doubts" in Barr's account of the report.

"While we do not yet know what is in the memo, the court's opinion gives us confidence that we were right to have questions," he said.

The Department of Justice has until May 17 to file any motion of stay, the decision states.

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