Memo Details Barr’s Justifications Not to Prosecute Trump

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration released a Trump-era memorandum on Wednesday that provided the most detailed look yet at the Justice Department’s legal reasoning for declining to charge President Donald J. Trump with obstruction of justice over his efforts to impede the Russia investigation.

The March 2019 memo, delivered to the attorney general at the time, William P. Barr, concluded that none of Mr. Trump’s actions chronicled in the report by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — from firing his F.B.I. director to pressuring the White House counsel to recant his testimony to prosecutors — could be shown beyond a reasonable doubt to be criminal acts.

Many of these actions, two senior Justice Department officials wrote, were motivated by the fact that Mr. Trump “reasonably believed” the investigations were impeding his government agenda rather than threatening him directly.

In a way, the 2019 memo is akin to lawyers making a case to a judge who had already decided to rule in their favor. Before he became attorney general, Mr. Barr had written a memo for Mr. Trump’s legal team laying out why he thought there was no basis for an obstruction prosecution.

Read the Justice Department’s Memo to Attorney General William P. Barr

The Biden administration released an unredacted memorandum from March 2019 that described the Justice Department’s legal reasoning for declining to charge President Donald J. Trump in the Russia investigation.

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The Trump Investigations

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The Trump Investigations

Numerous inquiries. Since former President Donald J. Trump left office, he has been facing several civil and criminal investigations into his business dealings and political activities. Here is a look at some notable cases:

The Trump Investigations

Classified documents inquiry. The F.B.I. searched Mr. Trump’s Florida home as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into his handling of classified materials. The inquiry is focused on documents that Mr. Trump had brought with him to Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence, when he left the White House.

The Trump Investigations

Jan. 6 investigations. In a series of public hearings, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack laid out a comprehensive narrative of Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. This evidence could allow federal prosecutors, who are conducting a parallel criminal investigation, to indict Mr. Trump.

The Trump Investigations

Georgia election interference case. Fani T. Willis, the Atlanta-area district attorney, has been leading a wide-ranging criminal investigation into the efforts of Mr. Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia. This case could pose the most immediate legal peril for the former president and his associates.

The Trump Investigations

New York State civil inquiry. Letitia James, the New York attorney general, has been conducting a civil investigation into Mr. Trump and his family business. The case is focused on whether Mr. Trump’s statements about the value of his assets were part of a pattern of fraud or were simply Trumpian showmanship.

The Trump Investigations

Manhattan criminal case. Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, has been investigating whether Mr. Trump or his family business intentionally submitted false property values to potential lenders. But the inquiry faded from view after signs emerged suggesting that Mr. Trump was unlikely to be indicted.

Mr. Barr has said that he believed the Russia investigation was a “witch hunt” that had been cooked up by Mr. Trump’s opponents to upend his presidency and that Mr. Trump was well within his right to try to push back on the sprawling inquiry and the negative media attention that came with it.

The release of the memo comes at a time when the Biden Justice Department is investigating Mr. Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot and for the removal of hundreds of classified documents from the White House to his home in Florida, but the timing appears to be coincidental. Last week, a federal judge ordered that the memo be released as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The memo shows that senior Justice Department officials seemed to be prepared to knock down arguments that Mr. Trump had obstructed justice. It includes numerous citations to previous obstruction cases, precedents and legal theories, and it is dated March 24, only two days after the special counsel’s office delivered a report of more than 400 pages to the attorney general.

The memo is also critical of Mr. Mueller’s decision to lay out the facts of the obstruction issue without coming to a conclusion. “The department either brings charges or it does not,” it stated.

The memo said that Mr. Trump may have been in greater legal peril if he had taken actions that truly impeded investigators’ ability to uncover the facts — such as destroying evidence or witness tampering.

Read More on Trump Investigations

Key developments in the inquiries into the former president and his allies.

  • White House Documents: Former President Donald J. Trump kept more than 700 pages of classified documents, according to a letter from the National Archives. The Justice Department is said to have retrieved more than 300 classified documents from Mr. Trump since he left office.
  • A Plea Deal: Allen H. Weisselberg, a top Trump executive who was indicted along with the Trump Organization on tax charges by the ​​Manhattan district attorney’s office, pleaded guilty to 15 felonies. As part of the deal, he is expected to testify at the company’s trial.
  • Giuliani in Georgia: Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has been told that he is a target in a criminal investigation into election interference in the state, appeared before an Atlanta grand jury.
  • Invoking the Fifth Amendment: Sitting for a deposition in the New York attorney general’s civil inquiry into his business practices, Mr. Trump repeatedly invoked his constitutional right against self incrimination.

“If the president were to perjure himself, tamper with witness testimony or corruptly destroy evidence, then such actions would violate well-established law,” the memo stated. “But we do not believe that any of the actions described in the report would meet such a standard.”

The memo said that the most problematic action Mr. Trump took involved his attempt to pressure the former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II — the chief witness against him in the obstruction investigation — to recant what he disclosed to investigators. Mr. Trump had privately told Mr. McGahn to create a fake document that contradicted what he had told investigators about Mr. Trump’s attempts to have Mr. Mueller ousted as the special counsel.

But Mr. McGahn never succumbed to Mr. Trump’s pressure, and the memo states that Mr. Trump appeared more interested in rebutting media reports than influencing Mr. McGahn’s testimony.

Glenn Thrush contributed reporting.

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