A federal judge has ordered the release of a legal memorandum the Trump-era Justice Department prepared for then-Atty. Gen. William Barr before he announced his conclusion that President Trump had not obstructed justice during the Russia investigation, reports the Los Angeles Times. The Justice Department had refused to give the March 24, 2019, memorandum to a government transparency group that requested it under the Freedom of Information Act, saying the document represented the private advice of lawyers and was produced before any formal decision had been made and was therefore exempt from disclosure under public records law. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson argued that the Justice Department had obscured “the true purpose of the memorandum” when it withheld the document. She said that the memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel contained “strategic, as opposed to legal advice” and that both the writers and the recipients already had a shared understanding as to what the prosecutorial decision would be and that this meant it was not “predecisional,” as the department had insisted.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a public record request seeking communications about the decision to clear Trump of obstruction charges, despite special counsel Robert Mueller and his team pointedly not reaching that conclusion, after Barr said that he and other senior officials had reached their decision in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal guidance to executive branch agencies. At issue in a lawsuit pending before the judge were two particular documents the group wanted. Jackson ruled that one of the documents, described by a Justice Department official as an “untitled, undated draft legal analysis” submitted to the attorney general as part of his decision-making, was properly withheld from the group, but ordered the release of the other memo, which was prepared for Barr by the then-head of the Office of Legal Counsel and another senior Justice Department official and which concludes that the evidence assembled by Mueller’s team would not support an obstruction prosecution of Trump.