The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday that it plans to partially appeal a court ruling earlier this month that called for the release of a legal memorandum the Trump-era Justice Department prepared for then-Attorney General William Barr before he announced his conclusion that President Trump did not obstruct justice during the Russia investigation.
The DOJ announced its decision just before the midnight deadline and appealed to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to stay her May 3 decision during the appeal process.
The department, which is led by Attorney General Merrick Garland, said in a court filing that the government “acknowledges that its briefs could have been clearer, and it deeply regrets the confusion that caused. But the government’s counsel and declarants did not intend to mislead the Court.”
The judge said earlier this month that Barr’s Justice Department had obscured “the true purpose of the memorandum” when it withheld the document.
Jackson chastised Barr for his general handling of the Robert Mueller report, saying his “characterization of what he’d hardly had time to skim, much less, study closely, prompted an immediate reaction, as politicians and pundits took to their microphones and Twitter feeds to decry what they feared was an attempt to hide the ball.”
Garland’s decision will likely result in some backlash from Democrats, who have called for transparency.
Reuters reported that a group of Senate Democrats called on Garland not to appeal the decision.
“To be clear, these misrepresentations preceded your confirmation as Attorney General, but the Department you now lead bears responsibility for redressing them,” the letter stated.
Harry Litman, the legal affairs columnist for the Los Angeles Times, warned readers that Garland, who is “a thoroughgoing institutionalist, is likely to tread cautiously “on the matter.”
“Much of what the Justice Department does under his leadership is apt to disappoint liberals hoping for a sea change,” he wrote.
Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC host, told her audience that the DOJ has been trying to keep the memo a secret. But Jackson’s ruling prompted the DOJ to request an extension. She said, “Either the Trump prosecution memo comes out, or the Biden Justice Department tells the judge they’re going to appeal to another court to try and keep it secret.”
Joyce Alene, a law professor at the University of Alabama School of Law and legal analyst for MSNBC, pointed out on Twitter that the DOJ’s move is only a notice of appeal, “not a brief that conveys DOJ’s reasoning.”
“The appeal may be limited to certain redactions in the memo that DOJ believes are legitimately privileged or it could be something else. We won’t know the basis for the appeal until briefs are filed,” she wrote.
The DOJ said the government has determined not to appeal the court’s “decision insofar as it ordered the release of the entirety” of the first page of Document no. 15 and Section I of the March 2019 memo. “Accordingly, this Court’s memorandum opinion, which discusses those previously redacted portions of the document, may be unsealed in its entirety,” a court filing read.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sought the memo under the Freedom of Information Act.
Fox News’ Jake Gibson and the Associated Press contributed to this report