WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice has released a 2019 memo to then-Attorney General William Barr advising him not to pursue obstruction of justice charges against then-President Donald Trump related to the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the Justice Department to release an unredacted version of the memo under the Freedom of Information Act. The Justice Department argued in court that the document should be shielded from public view.
But the appeals court found that Barr never seriously considered charging Trump with obstructing the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, stating in its ruling that the memo the former attorney general requested was an "academic exercise" and a "thought experiment."
Mueller's investigation listed several instances in which Trump's actions while president could meet the requirements for an obstruction of justice charge, but Mueller left the decision to Barr, citing precedent that a sitting president cannot be charged with a federal crime.
The memo advised Barr that the facts laid out in Mueller's report were insufficient to establish that Trump had obstructed justice during the investigation, and that even if he were not president, the Justice Department should not pursue charges.
"We conclude that the evidence described in Volume II of the report is not, in our judgment, sufficient to support a conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt that the President violated the obstruction-of-justice statutes," the memo states. "Accordingly, were there no constitutional barrier, we would recommend under the Principles of Federal Prosecution, that you decline to commence such a prosecution."