Justice Department lawyers concluded that then-President Donald Trump should not be prosecuted on obstruction of justice charges stemming from the special counsel’s investigation into Russia collusion, according to a newly released memo.
The department’s Office of Legal Counsel in the memo sent March 24, 2019, to then-Attorney General Bill Barr examined the legal case around whether Trump had interfered in Robert Mueller’s investigation by firing FBI Director James Comey or seeking to have Mueller removed from the probe.
In his 448-page report, Mueller declined to weigh in on whether Trump obstructed the investigation but did not absolve him either.
The memo, prepared by two senior Justice Department officials, said the evidence in Mueller’s report was “not, in our judgment, sufficient to support a conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt that the President violated the obstruction-of-justice statutes.”
“In addition, we believe that certain of the conduct examined by the Special Counsel could not, as a matter of law, support an obstruction charge under the circumstances,” the memo continued. “Accordingly, were there no constitutional barrier, we would recommend, under the Principles of Federal Prosecution, that you decline to commence such a prosecution.”
Barr, the same day he received the memo, convened a news conference in which he said the Justice Department would not pursue charges against Trump.
A federal appeals court ordered the release of the memo last week in response to a lawsuit from a watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The memo, written by Edward O’Callaghan and Steven Engel, addressed Trump’s firing of Comey in May 2017 and his earlier request to the FBI director that he drop the case against Michael Flynn, the administration’s national security adviser, who had met with Russia’s then-ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition.
O’Callaghan and Engel wrote that those events do not establish obstruction of justice, noting that at the time Trump was told by Comey that he was not personally under investigation.
It said that Trump reacted because he believed his administration was being undermined by purely political attacks.
“At the same time, the President repeatedly demonstrated his belief that the Russia investigation had cast a cloud on his nascent Administration and that it was being exploited, if not outright conducted, by his political opponents to frustrate his efforts to implement his agenda,” the memo states.
“As the Report indicates, many 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,” it said.
The memo also points out that Mueller was never fired.
CREW said the memo sent to Barr ”presents a breathtakingly generous view of the law and facts for Donald Trump.”
“The memo supports the chilling conclusion that any president can interfere with any investigation if they believe it could damage them politically. It is clear why Barr did not want the public to see it,” the group said in a statement Wednesday.
Trump thanked CREW for working to release the ”now infamous Mueller Memo on yet another Trump prosecution.”
”It was stated that my ’conduct primarily reflected a frustration with the Mueller probe and what [I] perceived to be the politics behind it,’ in addition to what I believed were absolutely flawed and Fake News reports. Sound familiar?” he wrote in a statement sent by email.
“CREW is devastated by these findings, that they worked so hard to ’expose,’ but may now move on to the even more ridiculous Witch Hunt that has already caused a great Mar-a-Lago Red Wave with the voters of our Nation!” Trump said, referring to the FBI’s search for classified documents at his Florida resort.
With Post wires