Former attorney general William Barr, who is currently under consideration to once again lead the Department of Justice, has concluded decisively that Trump did not obstruct justice, according to a memo he provided to senior Department of Justice officials in June.
The 20 page memo, which was obtained by the Wall Street Journal after it was released to lawmakers late Wednesday night, makes the case that Mueller’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice by the president is “fatally misconceived” and encroaches on executive authority.
Barr sent the unsolicited memo on June 8 to deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein as a “former official” who hoped that his “views may be useful.”
The former attorney general felt compelled to send the memo after learning through news reports that Mueller was examining whether Trump’s conversation with James Comey, in which he indirectly asked the then-FBI director to drop the investigation into former national-security adviser Mike Flynn, constituted obstruction of justice.
“As I understand it, his theory is premised on a novel and legally insupportable reading of the law,” Barr wrote. “Moreover, in my view, if credited by the Justice Department, it would have grave consequences far beyond the immediate confines of this case and would do lasting damage to the Presidency and to the administration of law within the Executive branch.”
In the memo, Barr argues that if the Department of Justice is to unseat a Democratically elected president, it should only do so in response to serious and clear violations of the law.
“I know you will agree that, if a DOJ investigation is going to take down a democratically-elected President, it is imperative to the health of our system and to our national cohesion that any claim of wrongdoing is solidly based on evidence of a real crime—not a debatable one,” Barr wrote. “It is time to travel well-worn paths; not to veer into novel, unsettled or contested areas of the law; and not to indulge the fancies by overly-zealous prosecutors.”
Trump has nominated Barr, who last served as attorney general under president George H. W. Bush, to succeed Jeff Sessions, but the existence of a memo in which Barr makes clear he believes at least one major aspect of Mueller’s probe lacks legal standing will undoubtedly imperil his confirmation.
Department of Justice spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told the Journal that ethics officials have determined that Barr’s memo does not disqualify him from overseeing Mueller’s probe as attorney general.
“Mr. Barr has stated that, if confirmed, he will make any decisions based on the actual facts and circumstances of any particular matter,” she said.