The Department of Justice on Wednesday released a legal memo laying out that Donald Trump’s actions while serving as president during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation did not warrant prosecution for obstruction of justice.
The March 24 2019 nine page memo written by two very senior Department of Justice officials advised then-Attorney General William Barr that Trump’s threats to fire Robert Mueller and his public and private comments against witnesses he viewed as a threat to him did not rise to their standards for prosecution for obstruction of justice.
“Having reviewed the Report in light of the governing legal principles, and the Principles of Federal Prosecution, we conclude that none of those instances would warrant a prosecution for obstruction of justice, without regard to the constitutional constraint on bringing such an action against a sitting president,” the assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, Steven Engel, and Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O’Callaghan wrote in their memo.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal watchdog group, filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act three years ago in an effort to make the memo public. The Department of Justice fought tooth and nail to keep the memo from the public.
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The case swaggered through the halls of justice in the District Court initially. Later, It was appealed, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled last week that the DOJ botched its handling of the FOIA suit by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.
DOJ had the option to ask the full bench of the D.C. Circuit to rehear the case, or to seek a review before the Supreme Court. The decision was made to take a pass and release it.
The memo’s authors, Engel and O’Callaghan, concluded that Trump’s conduct reflected mounting frustration with the Mueller probe and what he perceived to be a political witch-hunt ,and Trump’s overall frustration with the media conflicting reporting on the Mueller probe.
The officials stood their ground that Mueller had not found sufficient evidence to charge Trump for any crime, and hence, Trump did not violate obstruction of justice.
“In the absence of an underlying offense, the most compelling inference in evaluating the President’s conduct is that he reasonably believed that the Special Counsel’s investigation was interfering with his governing agenda,” Engel and O’Callaghan wrote.
Engel is one of three Trump Justice Department witnesses to have testified before the Jan. 6 select committee. He stated that he threatened to resign if Trump had decided to replace the department’s leadership following the 2020 election.