D.C. judge rules William Barr misled Congress, public about Trump-Russia probe

Judge says Trump dodging prosecution was “a given.”

FILE — President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., after a trip to Kenosha, Wis., in September 2020. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — A federal judge accused former Attorney General William Barr, who served a two-year term leading the Trump Justice Department, of misleading her, the public, and members of Congress in his summary of the Mueller Report, an official report documenting findings of an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Special Counsel Mueller’s three-year probe was finalized in 2019, with the former FBI director and his team finding insufficient evidence to support criminal charges in relation to collusion, despite an apparent link between Russian government officials and figures within the Trump campaign.

“While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges,” the report read.

The investigation resulted in 34 people being charged with crimes, including longtime Trump ally Roger Stone and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, with 8 guilty pleas and a conviction at trial. Most of the charges stemmed from allegations of lying to congress and federal investigators. Trump and other figures surrounding him have publicly denounced the investigation as a “witch hunt.”

“Nothing changes from the Mueller Report,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed. Thank you!”

Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who works out of the US District Court in Washington, ruled that a secret Justice Department legal memo, with advice from lawyers to Attorney General Barr on whether to prosecute Trump, must be released. The Justice Dept. had previously argued in court that the largely redacted memo was legal advice given to Barr, however, Jackson said she believed Barr and others had already made up their mind not to charge Trump and said that the memo was likely strategic planning.

“What the Court can say without revealing the content of the redacted material is that there were two sections to this memorandum. Section I offers strategic, as opposed to legal advice, about whether the Attorney General should take a particular course of action, and it made recommendations with respect to that determination, a subject that the agency omitted entirely from its description of the document or the justification for its withholding,” Jackson wrote in a memorandum opinion. “In other words, the review of the document reveals that the Attorney General was not then engaged in making a decision about whether the President should be charged with obstruction of justice; the fact that he would not be prosecuted was a given.”

Following the release of the report, Barr and the Justice Dept. ultimately chose not to charge Trump in relation to the same offense. Mueller’s team had disputed Barr’s characterization of the report, privately urging him to release more, but Barr refused.

Barr had argued that the decision to charge Trump had been “left to him,” however, Judge Jackson called those claims “disingenuous.” She added that the unredacted version of the memo “excised portions belie the notion that it fell to the attorney general to make a prosecution decision or that any such decision was on the table at any time.”

Jackson also focused her sights on Barr’s personal conduct, slamming him for allegedly spinning the investigation’s findings in a summary letter, effectively enabling Trump to claim his “full exoneration.”

“The attorney general’s characterization of what he’d hardly had time to skim, much less study closely, prompted an immediate reaction, as politicians and pundits took to their microphones and Twitter feeds to decry what they feared was an attempt to hide the ball,” Judge Jackson wrote.

Trump and others have publicly accused Judge Jackson of wrongdoing, though legal experts say she was an unbiased arbiter in her handling of the Russia investigation. She presided over the trials of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and ally Roger Stone, trials which later resulted in presidential pardons for both men.

The Biden Justice Department has until May 17 to decide whether it plans to appeal the ruling, with current Attorney General Merrick Garland promising to uphold the law, devoid of partisan bias.

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Ethan Biando

Ethan Biando

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