The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sued for the documents in 2019.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday released the 2019 memorandum sent to then-Attorney General William Barr about whether to charge President Donald Trump with obstruction of justice based on the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The document’s release comes following a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week in which a panel of judges said the record wasn’t part of the agency’s internal deliberations on its decision not to charge the former president with a obstructing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and therefore not protected from disclosure by deliberative-process privilege.
The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sued for the documents under the Freedom of Information Act in 2019.
The memo was sent from then Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel with the Office of Legal Counsel, and Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward C. O’Callaghan.
The memo notes that there is a “constitutional barrier” to charging Trump, and cited an OLC opinion from 2000 that determined a sitting president is immune to criminal prosecution under the Constitution.
The memo also states that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report didn’t identify any actions taken by Trump that rose to obstruction of justice, including when he fired former FBI Director James Comey in May 2017.
“[M]any of the president’s actions in these matters can readily be explained by his desire to have the FBI director or others in the administration inform the public that he was not under investigation. Indeed, the report identifies substantial evidence that the FBI director’s refusal to make such a public statement was the driving force in the president terminating him.”
After Mueller began investigating Trump for potential obstruction of justice, the former president made an unsuccessful bid to the White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller. He also asked then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his decision to recuse from supervising the probe, the memo states. The memo concluded that neither of the actions amounted to obstruction of justice.
The memo also states bringing charges for obstruction of justice would be difficult to prove because Mueller’s investigation found there was not enough evidence to prove any crime by Trump or his campaign.
“The special counsel’s obstruction theory would not only be novel, but, based on his own analysis, it would be unusual because … the special counsel’s report is conclusive that the evidence developed ‘was not sufficient to charge that any member of the Trump campaign [including the president] conspired or coordinated with representatives of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election,’” the memo said. “Given that conclusion, the evidence does not establish a crime or criminal conspiracy involving the president toward which any obstruction or attempted obstruction by the president was directed.”
Read the Memo Here