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Political Notebook

Judge orders release of memo on Russia probe

Former attorney general William Barr.
Former attorney general William Barr.DOUG MILLS/NYT

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has ordered 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 had not obstructed justice during the Russia investigation.

The Justice Department had refused to give the March 24, 2019, memorandum to a government transparency group that requested it under the Freedom of Information Act, saying the document represented the private advice of lawyers and was produced before any formal decision had been made and was therefore exempt from disclosure under public records law.

But US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the Justice Department had obscured “the true purpose of the memorandum” when it withheld the document. She said the memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel contained “strategic, as opposed to legal advice” and that both the writers and the recipients already had a shared understanding as to what the prosecutorial decision would be. She said this meant it was not — as the department had maintained — “predecisional.”

“In other words, the review of the document reveals that the Attorney General was not then engaged in making a decision about whether the President should be charged with obstruction of justice; the fact that he would not be prosecuted was a given,” Jackson said in an order dated Monday.

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The decision by Barr and senior Justice Department leaders to clear Trump of obstruction, even though special counsel Robert Mueller and his team pointedly did not reach that conclusion, was a significant moment for the president. The announcement, and a four-page summary of Mueller’s report, preceded the release of the 448-page document and helped shape public perception of the investigation’s conclusions. Mueller subsequently complained to Barr that his summary had not fully captured the investigation’s findings and had caused “public confusion.”

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Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a public records request seeking communications about the obstruction decision after Barr said that he and other senior officials had reached that conclusion in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Lawmaker’s accuser faces harassment

BOISE — The harassment began soon after a report by a 19-year-old intern, who alleged an Idaho lawmaker raped her, became public.

One state representative sought a copy of the police report and made inquiries into how the young woman herself could be referred for criminal charges for reporting the alleged rape.

Another shared links to a far-right blog post that included the intern’s name, photo, and details about her life with thousands of people in a newsletter and on social media.

And members of an antigovernment group tried to follow and harass the young woman after she was called to testify in a legislative ethics hearing.

“I can take criticism,” the intern said in a phone interview Sunday evening. “But this, it’s just overwhelming.”

The AP doesn’t name people who report sexual assaults unless they agree to be publicly named. She asked to use the name “Jane Doe.”

The investigation into then-Representative Aaron von Ehlinger, a Republican from Lewiston, underscores why many alleged sex crimes go unreported. Survivors can face stigma and disbelief when they come forward.

The Idaho probe began in March after the intern reported that the lawmaker raped her after they went out to dinner. Von Ehlinger has denied all wrongdoing and maintains they had consensual sex. The Boise Police Department is investigating.

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Von Ehlinger resigned after a legislative ethics committee found he engaged in “conduct unbecoming” a lawmaker. But the harassment faced by Doe didn’t stop. Some are still calling her names and posting her photo online.

“You know that photo everyone is posting? I’m 12 years old in that photo,” Doe said. “But the truth cannot be altered.”

Doe said she was hoping to network when she agreed to von Ehlinger’s dinner invitation. After dinner, von Ehlinger brought her back to his apartment rather than her car because he said he’d forgotten something. Once there, Doe said, he forced her to perform oral sex, despite her saying “no.” She said she froze.

“I got fixated on his curtains because they were bright red — I named them ‘American red’ in my head,” she said. “I will never forget how disgusting I felt.”

She reported the alleged assault to state house officials and police two days later. Her complaint became public April 16.

Within hours, von Ehlinger’s supporters began publicizing Doe’s identity. One of his attorneys released a letter that included her real name. Two far-right websites posted Doe’s name, and one included her photo.

“I respected them enough not to keep it a secret,” Doe said of von Ehlinger’s fellow lawmakers, “and they destroyed me.”

Representative Priscilla Giddings, a Republican, shared the link with Doe’s name and photo in a newsletter to constituents and on social media. She called the allegations a “liberal smear job.” Giddings has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

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Representative Heather Scott, also a Republican, filed a public record request seeking a copy of the young woman’s police report. Scott approached Representative Melissa Wintrow, a Democrat from Boise, to ask about how a person who files a false police report alleging sexual assault could be charged. Wintrow is a board member for the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, which represents Jane Doe.

Scott refused to answer questions from the AP, saying only in an April 27 e-mail: “I dont think you have your facts straight.”

During a public hearing, Doe was shielded from view as she testified, and the committee warned everyone her identity should stay private. As Doe left, some supporters of von Ehlinger rushed out to try to film her.

Boise resident Karen Smith, who attended the ethics hearing to support Doe, heard the intern screaming.

“I thought, ‘Oh no, somebody needs to maybe go help,’” Smith said.

Smith found Doe huddled on the floor as her legal team tried to shield her with umbrellas as onlookers tried to get close enough to film Doe.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Democrat Crist joins race for Fla. governor

MIAMI — Representative Charlie Crist entered the Florida race for governor Tuesday, becoming the first challenger to Ron DeSantis, a Republican who raised his profile during the pandemic and is now one of the best-known governors in the country and a leading contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2024.

“Every step of the way, this governor has been more focused on his personal political fortune than the struggle of everyday Floridians,” Crist, a Democrat, said under the blazing sun in St. Petersburg. “That’s just not right. Just like our former president, he always takes credit but never takes responsibility.”

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Earlier, in a video posted on Twitter, Crist said: “Today, Florida has a governor that’s only focused on his future, not yours.”

Crist has a long political history in Florida and is widely known throughout the state. He served as governor as a Republican from 2007 to 2011 before running unsuccessfully for the Senate as an independent, losing to Marco Rubio. After switching parties, he later lost a Democratic bid for governor in 2014 against the incumbent, Rick Scott.

But Crist’s experience is unlikely to deter other Democratic candidates. His clout has been diminished by years of electoral failures and by a party that is increasingly open to a wider range of more diverse public figures to be its standard-bearers. Two women, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Representative Val Demings of Orlando, are considering their own Democratic runs for the governor’s mansion.

NEW YORK TIMES