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Justice Dept. blasts Mexico's decision to close probe of former defense minister

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is condemning the Mexican government for its decision not to press drug-related charges and subsequently close the country's investigation into former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos. 

According to Reuters, a Department of Justice spokesperson said late Friday that it was "deeply disappointed" with the decision not to file charges, a move Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador

publicly supported earlier in the day. 

In a brief statement in response to the decision, the Justice Department said, "The United States reserves the right to recommence its prosecution of Cienfuegos if the Government of Mexico fails to do so."

Reuters reported that upon instructions from López Obrador, Mexico's foreign ministry published a 751-page document showing records of U.S. evidence compiled against Cienfuegos, including logs of alleged phone communications.

A DOJ spokesperson told Reuters that the agency was also "deeply disappointed" by the decision to release this information to the public. 

"Publicizing such information violates the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance between Mexico and the United States, and calls into question whether the United States can continue to share information to support Mexico's own criminal investigations," the spokesperson said. 

Cienfuegos, who served as Mexico's defense secretary between 2012 and 2018, was arrested at the Los Angeles airport in October and charged with counts of drug trafficking and money laundering in connection with the powerful H-2 drug cartel. 

However, the DOJ in November dropped the charges against Cienfuegos and agreed to release him to Mexico after the country opened its own investigation, then-Attorney General William Barr said in a statement at the time. 

Many condemned the U.S. move, including Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said in a statement at the time, "After four years of President Trump's empty boasting that he stands for the rule of law, his term ends with his administration once again turning a blind eye to the facts and selling out U.S. national security interests." 

He added in the statement, "For someone who launched his entire presidency by conjuring xenophobic images of druglords running amok along the U.S.-Mexico border, there is no explanation for Attorney General [William] Barr's decision to abruptly drop drug trafficking charges against General Cienfuegos." 

Menendez continued by arguing that, with the decision, "Attorney General Barr risks undermining that faith in the U.S. justice system and encouraging impunity at the highest levels in Mexico."

Menendez's office did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment on Friday's decision by Mexican authorities.

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