Federal judge was 'lied to' by Trump's DOJ about Bill Barr's key decision in the Mueller probe: report

Federal judge was 'lied to' by Trump's DOJ about Bill Barr's key decision in the Mueller probe: report
William Barr in January 2020, U.S. Dept. of Justice

District Judge Amy Berman Jackson was a major source of frustration to Donald Trump during his presidency, sentencing two of his closest allies — veteran GOP operative Roger Stone and former 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort — to federal prison. This week, Jackson handed down a ruling in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and New York Times reporter Charlie Savage analyses Jackson's decision in a Twitter thread.

That lawsuit, Savage notes, involved a March 2019 Office of Legal Counsel memo that was "related to whether Trump could be indicted for obstructing" former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. CREW was seeking a copy of the memo, citing the Freedom of Information Act — and Jackson, in her ruling, said the Trump-era Department of Justice lied to her about the memo.

"Judge Amy Berman Jackson says the (Trump) DOJ lied to her by saying it was predecisional when the decision had already been made," Savage explained. "When DOJ grudgingly showed her the memo, she saw that it was about actually strategy and arguments for (former Attorney General) Barr to quash the idea, which he had already decided to do — not predecisional as DOJ had told her in a sworn affidavit."

So basically, Barr had already made up his mind about whether Trump could be indicted for obstructing justice, and he pushed for a memo to justify that conclusion. But the Justice Department didn't want Judge Jackson to know that.

Jackson, Savage notes, "says the evidence in the record contradicts what DOJ said, and shows bad faith." And Savage adds that Jackson "links DOJ misleading her about the memo to how Barr was disingenuous (with) the public about the Mueller report, as Judge Reggie Walton has (previously) explained in depth."


The Times reporter points out that Jackson has also said she was lied to by the Trump-era DOJ about a separate Freedom of Information Act case; that case pertained to a New York Times lawsuit seeking Office of Management and Budget documents on Trump's decision to freeze military aid to Ukraine in 2019. That freeze was a key factor in Trump's first of two impeachments; Trump was impeached by House Democrats after trying to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into helping him dig up dirt on now-President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Savage explains, "Litigating FOIA cases — where the govt says a doc falls under an exemption & so can be lawfully withheld — relies upon DOJ & govt affiants being honest when describing its contents in sworn court statements. Here are two cases in which that system has demonstrably broken down.... Judges in FOIA cases should routinely demand to read the doc in question rather than deferring, sight unseen, to the government's claims about its contents when arguing that something is exempt and a case should be dismissed."


Savage wraps up his thread by stressing that there should be repercussions when government officials lie to courts about the contents of documents.

"The sanction for discovering govt officials lied to the court should be more than ordering release of the doc," Savage argues. "Limiting the penalty to release creates an incentive to lie about embarrassing docs: at worst, they will come out after a long delay that depleted their relevance. /end."

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