Judge temporarily blocks release of Trump obstruction memo

A federal judge on Monday granted the Justice Department's request to temporarily block the release of an internal legal memo prepared in response to the Mueller report in 2019.

District Judge Amy Berman Jackson agreed to stay her order for the document's release while the Biden administration appeals.

The memo contains the rationale behind former Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump: Washington/Lincoln ticket would have had hard time beating me before pandemic Trump says Barr 'never' told him he thought he'd lose election Speeches aren't enough: Biden must ditch bipartisanship, endorse ending filibuster MORE's conclusion that former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE did not find evidence that would support obstruction of justice charges against former President TrumpDonald TrumpNew Capitol Police chief to take over Friday Overnight Health Care: Biden officials says no change to masking guidance right now | Missouri Supreme Court rules in favor of Medicaid expansion | Mississippi's attorney general asks Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade Michael Wolff and the art of monetizing gossip MORE.

ADVERTISEMENT

Jackson said in a nine-page decision that while she still disagrees with the Justice Department's arguments against the memo's release, she believes that it shouldn't be prematurely unredacted before the department has an opportunity to make its case to an appeals court.

"[The court] found with respect to this particular document, based on these particular declarations, that the elements of the privilege had not been established," the judge wrote. "But it agrees that without a stay, the battle would be lost before it begins." 

Jackson issued her initial decision last month, blasting the Justice Department and Barr for what she saw as misrepresentations about the Mueller report and internal deliberations over whether Trump committed obstruction of justice. The decision came in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

A spokesman for CREW did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

The group had vigorously opposed the Justice Department's motion for a stay, accusing the Biden administration in a court filing earlier this month of seeking to protect its "parochial interest in preventing embarrassing information from becoming public that would cast the agency and individual agency actors in a bad light."

ADVERTISEMENT

The Justice Department filed an appeal last month but agreed to release a portion of the memo, which showed that agency lawyers had advised Barr to make a determination on obstruction charges because Mueller had not made a conclusion on the issue in his report.

"In retrospect, the government acknowledges that its briefs could have been clearer, and it deeply regrets the confusion that caused," the Justice Department said in a court filing last month.

Jackson suggested in her decision on Monday that her order from last month would not have jeopardized the Justice Department's ability to fight the release of similar internal memos in potential future court battles.

"The Court found  given the unique circumstances surrounding the drafting of the Barr Memo, including the timing and joint nature of its creation, and the unique issues presented by DOJ’s pleadings, including the inconsistencies between the declarations and the memo itself  that DOJ failed to meet its burden to establish that the record was protected under the established law governing the privileges it asserted," Jackson said.