Justice Department wrongly withheld memo on Russia probe: Appellate panel

A watchdog group previously sued for the memo, which the DOJ argued was exempt from disclosure

Updated: August 20, 2022 - 2:57am

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A federal appeals panel ruled Friday that the Justice Department improperly withheld parts of an internal memorandum discussing the potential prosecution of then-President Trump on obstruction of justice charges following Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

The March 24, 2019, memo came from the department's Office of Legal Counsel and was intended for Attorney General William Barr to evaluate in considering the pursuit of charges, according to the Associated Press.

A watchdog group previously sued for the memo, which the department argued was exempt from disclosure. A federal judge disagreed and ordered the department to hand over documents to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The department did so but withheld the memo, arguing it exempt as an internal deliberation.

The memo reportedly highlighted Mueller's failure to determine whether Trump committed a crime, stating “Mueller had declined to accuse President Trump of obstructing justice but also had declined to exonerate him."

It further suggested that the report’s failure to take a definitive position could be read to imply an accusation against Trump,” according to the AP.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit asserted that the memo did not fall under the exemption the department cited, asserting that it failed to assert that the memo's content was part of Barr's decision making before he issued a statement on the report.

“Because the department did not tie the memorandum to deliberations about the relevant decision, the department failed to justify its reliance on the deliberative-process privilege,” the court wrote.