A US federal judge has accused the Justice Department under Attorney General William P. Barr of misleading her and Congress about whether former president Donald Trump had obstructed justice during the Russia investigation.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court in Washington said she was misled about advice top department officials offered Barr on whether former president Donald Trump should have been charged with obstructing the Russia probe, ordering that a related memo be released.
The Justice Department had not given the March 24, 2019, memorandum to a government transparency group that requested it under the Freedom of Information Act, arguing the document, which represented the private advice of lawyers, was produced before any formal decision had been taken and was, as a result, exempt from public records laws.
However, Jackson said the Department obscured “the true purpose of the memorandum” by withholding the document, arguing that Barr and his aides already knew what his decision would be.
“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, an appointee of former president Barack Obama.
“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," she wrote.
"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.”
Jackson also said that the government had until May 17 to decide whether it wants to appeal her ruling, a decision a Justice Department run by President Joe Biden’s appointees will make.
The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by a government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, demanding that the Justice Department be ordered to turn over a slew of documents pertaining to how top law enforcement officials cleared Trump of wrongdoing.
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller examined whether Trump’s election campaign had colluded with Moscow to try to influence the 2016 presidential election and whether the Republican president later unlawfully tried to obstruct his investigation.
US intelligence agencies claimed Moscow had meddled in the election with a campaign of email hacking and online propaganda aimed at sowing discord in the United States, hurting Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in favor of Trump.
Both Trump and Russia repeatedly denied the accusations. Trump discredited the investigation by calling it a “witch hunt” and accusing Mueller of conflicts of interest.
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