Under Barr, DOJ Declined to Prosecute Trump. In New Hands, It Still Won’t Say Why

The Justice Department signaled this week that it will carry on the Trump administration‘s gauze of secrecy over the 2019 Russia probe led by former special counsel Robert Mueller. 

Attorney General William Barr speaks during a 2020 roundtable discussion. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — More than two years after special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his 448-page report on Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, there is little on the record about former Attorney General William Barr’s decision not to charge then-President Donald Trump with obstructing Mueller’s investigation.

That was set to change after U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson slammed the government’s tight-lipped posture in a May 4 ruling, initially filed under seal.

CREW, an independent watchdog organization whose name is short for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, brought the challenge over two years ago, shortly after Barr testified before Congress that he and the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, reached their conclusion not to charge Trump “in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other Department lawyers.” 

Barr’s testimony implicated the existence of consultations that are part of the public record, and CREW said it was entitled to see such records under the Freedom of Information Act.

After the Obama-appointed Jackson agreed with CREW, however, the Justice Department signaled late Monday that it will only release the record in part.

The promised appeal stoked criticism from CREW on Thursday morning.

“We are deeply disappointed in the Justice Department’s decision,” the committee’s president Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “The Department of Justice had an opportunity to come clean, turn over the memo, and close the book on the politicization and dishonesty of the past four years. Last night it chose not to do so.”

The Justice Department declined to comment. A spokesperson for the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia declined to comment. 

In the Monday night brief, the Justice Department argues that the question presented by Barr’s memo was whether Mueller’s investigation warranted a criminal case, and that Barr’s conclusion “undoubtedly qualifies as a decision, even if it could not have resulted in an actual prosecution of the sitting president.” 

“There was no legal bar to determining that the evidence did or did not establish commission of a crime, a determination the attorney general made and announced,” the brief continues. 

Barr spoke to Congress after releasing a redacted version of Mueller’s report, but this was prefaced by his 4-page summary, which asserted that Mueller “did not draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction.” 

Judge Jackson concluded on May 4, meanwhile, that the Justice Department’s secrecy over the records reflected its pattern of misleading Congress and the public about the investigation. 

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