“The long-awaited, though partial, release of a memorandum from the Justice Department this week left many “frustrated,” as predicted by the Washington Post, in Washington. The reason is what it did not contain. Critics had sought the memo as the “smoking gun” to show how former Attorney General Bill Barr scuttled any obstruction charges against Donald Trump. Instead, the memo showed the opposite. The staff of the OLC actually found that the allegations did not meet the standard of obstruction even without any defenses or privileges related to Trump’s office.
The issue of obstruction of justice ran throughout Barr’s second term as Attorney General. Before his confirmation hearing, a memo was released that Barr wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The memo discussed flaws in the use of the most likely federal provision on obstruction of justice against Trump. Barr was hammered by Democratic senators on his view of obstruction, as was I when I testified the next day as a witness. I agreed with many of the flaws noted by Barr in the memo.
Barr’s more nuanced arguments were drowned out by a long litany of experts like Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe who publicly insisted that obstruction was not only clearly established (with a long litany of other crimes) but that Barr’s rejection of that crime was evidence of his raw partisanship. In a public letter to me, Ralph Nader, Lou Fisher, and Bruce Fein stated that his rejection of obstruction was akin to “a papal encyclical that President Trump was innocent of obstruction of justice” that ignored Mueller’s “chronicle [of] multiple instances of evidence of obstruction.”
Throughout this never-ending barrage, Barr remained largely silent on the internal review of the matter and declined to release the full OLC memo. That only increased speculation that Barr must be hiding countervailing conclusions of legal staff. We know now that (at least the now disclosed portion of) the memo supports Barr’s prior view and, despite that fact, he withheld the information out of concern for the confidentiality of the internal deliberations.
It turns out that the review and debate over the obstruction allegations began before Barr started as Attorney General. The memo also confirms that the Mueller staff was part of that analysis with career prosecutors at Main Justice. The memo states that the prosecutors reviewed the Mueller evidence and concluded that the evidence “examined by the Special Counsel could not, as a matter of law, support an obstruction charge under the circumstances. Accordingly, were there no constitutional barriers, we would recommend, under the Principles of Federal Prosecution, that you decline to commence such a prosecution.” In plain English, that means that the prosecutors came to the same conclusion as Barr that the alleged conduct did not satisfy the elements of this crime. Moreover, it stated that it would reject such a charge even without consideration of any constitutional barriers presented by Trump’s office.” (Read more: Jonathan Turley, 5/26/2021) (Archive)