The appeal means some sections of the nine-page memo will likely remain secret for the time being, while litigation continues. The Justice Department released some portions of the memo on Monday, though the freshly unredacted sections did not provide many new details on the decision by then-Attorney General William Barr that Trump should not be charged with any crimes.
The decision to appeal is a key moment for the Biden-era Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland, and is sure to disappoint many Trump opponents who had hoped the latest release would reveal damaging information about the former President and his attorney general. In the court filings Monday, arguing that most of the memo should remain out of public view, Garland’s department defended some of the actions taken by the department under Barr.
The unredacted portions that were revealed late Monday night — which span two pages — mostly contained bureaucratic explanations of why the memo was written, and did not include the section where Trump’s conduct was analyzed through a prosecutorial decision-making process.
Top Trump appointees told Barr in the memo that the Mueller report’s “failure to take a position” on whether to charge Trump “might be read to imply such an accusation if the confidential report were released to the public” and that “therefore, we recommend that you examine the Report to determine whether prosecution would be appropriate,” according to the newly released portions.
The Justice Department filed a notification Monday night saying it would appeal Jackson’s decision. In a separate filing, the department said previous assertions by top prosecutors and officials were not clear enough, but maintained that it had not intentionally deceived the court.
“In retrospect, 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,” Justice Department officials wrote in the court filing Monday night.
The appeal by the Justice Department doesn’t necessarily mean that the Biden administration fully supports what the Trump administration did regarding the memo. This specific case is about the Mueller probe, but the ruling could influence other public records cases. Justice Department leaders under presidents of both parties have fought for decades to keep internal documents secret.
The legal battle over the nine-page memo from March 2019 is part of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group that was extremely critical of the Trump administration.