The Justice Department on Wednesday released a memo to Attorney General William Barr advising him not to charge President Donald Trump with obstruction of justice in a probe into Russian election interference. File Pool Photo by Michael Reynolds/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 24 (UPI) — The Justice Department on Wednesday released a secret memo explaining the legal reasoning behind not charging then-President Donald Trump with obstruction of justice in an investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In the nine-page memo, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel Steven Engel and Ed O’Callaghan, who was serving as the Justice Department’s principal associate deputy attorney general at the time, advised Attorney General William Barr that special counsel Robert Mueller‘s findings did not cite any instances of obstruction of justice that would warrant prosecution, even if a sitting president was susceptible to charges.
Mueller’s probe, they said, did not establish any “underlying crime related to Russian interference” and did not make clear that Trump sought to cover up any wrongdoing.
“Given that conclusion, the evidence does not establish a crime or criminal conspiracy involving the president toward which any obstruction or attempted obstruction by the president was directed,” the memo stated.
The memo contends that Trump’s actions were a result of his frustration with the Mueller probe as he believed it was obstructing his ability to carry out his political agenda.
Engel and O’Callaghan dismissed Mueller’s concerns about Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey, who said Trump pressured him to drop an investigation into his former aide Michael Flynn.
They also said that Trump’s efforts to fire Mueller and to offer pardons to some witnesses while warning others not to “flip” on him “could be viewed as efforts to defend himself from public criticism” related to the Russia probe or to discourage witnesses from making “what the president believed might be false statements in exchange for a lesser sentence” and therefore “do not warrant prosecution for 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,” the memo stated. “Even if the president were objectively wrong about the intentions of the special counsel, many, if not all, of his actions could be viewed as lacking the intent element under the relevant statutes.”
The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, sued for the release of the memo and an appeals court last week ruled in favor of its release over arguments from the Justice Department that the document was protected because it regarded internal discussions about a prosecutorial decision.
In a statement Wednesday, CREW said that the public deserved to know the legal rationale for the Justice Department declining to charge Trump, adding that the memo “presents a breathtakingly generous view of the law and facts” in favor of the former president.
“It significantly twists the facts and the law to benefit Donald Trump and does not comport with a serious reading of the law of obstruction of justice or the facts as found by Special Counsel Mueller,” the group wrote.
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