Panel rules that Justice improperly withheld notes in Russian inquiry

The Department of Justice under Attorney General William Barr inappropriately withheld some of the internal memorandums Barr cited in publicly announcing that then-President Donald Trump did not commit obstruction of justice. russia investigation, the federal appeals committee said Friday.

The Justice Department had argued that the 2019 memo was exempt from disclosure because it represented private deliberations by Legal Affairs Bureau attorneys before a formal decision was made. Federal judges previously disagreed. order the department of justice An appeal to the Supreme Court by the Biden administration was prompted last year to provide it to the government transparency group that filed the lawsuit.

Justice Department attorneys did not immediately respond to email messages seeking comment on the ruling.

At issue in the case is a March 24, 2019, memorandum from the head of the Department of Justice’s Office of the Legal Counsel (OLC) and another senior official that contains evidence of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. It is prepared for the bar to evaluate whether the is supported. Presidential obstruction of justice.

Barr said he looked to that opinion in concluding that Trump did not unlawfully obstruct the Russian investigation.

The Justice Department has filed other documents with citizens seeking responsibility and ethics in Washington as part of the group’s lawsuit, but has refused to hand over the memo. He said he had the right to withhold the memo under the Public Records Act because it reflected internal deliberations among attorneys before a decision was made.

But U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman-Jackson said last year, at about the same time the memo was prepared for Burr, another Justice Department letter was sent to Congress and the public that Burr and other senior officials said these arguments were disingenuous at about the same time that it informed them that it had concluded otherwise.

So if the Justice Department had already determined that there was no obstruction case, the memo may not have been “predeterminative” in nature, she said.

The government said it had already concluded that it would not block prosecution because the Justice Department’s legal opinion states that a sitting president cannot be indicted. But he said the memo concerned a different issue: whether the evidence Mueller has collected supports the conclusion that Trump obstructed justice.

In Friday’s ruling, the appeals panel said the case’s ruling might have been different had a memorandum related to Barr’s decision to issue a public statement on the report had been revealed to the court to Justice Department officials. I wrote no.

“Because the DOJ did not bind the memorandum to deliberations on the relevant decisions, the DOJ failed to justify reliance on privilege in the deliberative process,” according to an unsigned panel of judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals. and the District of Columbia Circuit.

Barr and other senior officials concluded that Trump’s actions did not amount to obstruction, and the attorney general shared his assessment with Congress shortly after the memo was completed. No conclusion was reached as to whether it interfered.

The appellate judge also noted that their ruling was “narrow” and interpreted as “challenging precedent that has allowed government agencies to withhold draft documents related to public messages.” Said it shouldn’t.


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Eric Tucker contributed to this report.