The Biden administration has decided to fight to keep secret most of a Trump-era Justice Department memo related to former Attorney General William P. Barr’s much-disputed declaration in 2019 clearing President Donald J. Trump of illegally obstructing justice in the Russia investigation.
In a late-night filing Monday, the Justice Department appealed part of a district-court ruling that ordered it to make public the entire memo. It was written at the same time that Mr. Barr sent a letter to Congress claiming the evidence in the then-still secret report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was insufficient to charge Mr. Trump with a crime.
The Justice Department did release the first page and a half of the nine-page memo. While Mr. Mueller had declined to render a judgment about what the evidence added up to because the department’s policy was not to charge a sitting president, the memo said Mr. Barr was justified in making a decision in order to shape public understanding of the report.
“Although the special counsel recognized the unfairness of levying an accusation against the president without bringing criminal charges, the report’s failure to take a position on the matters described therein might be read to imply such an accusation if the confidential report were released to the public,” wrote Steven A. Engel and Edward C. O’Callaghan, two senior Trump-era Justice Department officials.
The Mueller report itself — which Mr. Barr permitted to become public weeks after his letter to Congress had created an impression that the fruits of Mr. Mueller’s inquiry cleared Mr. Trump of obstruction — detailed multiple actions by Mr. Trump that many legal specialists say were clearly sufficient to ask a grand jury to consider indicting him for obstruction of justice.
Those actions included attempting to bully his White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, into falsifying a record to cover up an earlier attempt by Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Mueller, and dangling a potential pardon at Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, to encourage him not to cooperate with investigators.
The new Justice Department filing also apologized for and defended its Barr-era court filings about the memo, which Judge Amy Berman Jackson had labeled “disingenuous,” saying that they could have been written more clearly but were nevertheless accurate.
“The government acknowledges that its briefs could have been clearer, and it deeply regrets the confusion that caused,” the Justice Department said. “But the government’s counsel and declarants did not intend to mislead the court, and the government respectfully submits” that any missteps still did not warrant releasing the entire memo.
Mr. Barr’s claim — which he made weeks before releasing the Mueller public — that the evidence gathered showed that Mr. Trump did not commit a chargeable offense of obstruction has been widely criticized as deeply misleading.
Among other fallout, a government watchdog group, CREW, filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in the United States District Court in Washington seeking disclosure of an internal memo about the matter.
Earlier this month, Judge Jackson issued a scathing ruling in that case saying that the Barr-era Justice Department had been “disingenuous to this court” about the nature of the memo in court filings by arguing that it could be lawfully kept secret under an exemption for pre-decisional deliberations. She wrote that she had made the discovery after insisting that she read it herself.
While the Barr-era Justice Department told her the memo concerned deliberations about whether Mr. Trump should be charged with obstruction, the memo itself showed that Mr. Barr had already decided not to do so, and the memo was instead about strategy and arguments that could be mustered to quash the idea. She ordered the entire document released.
The Biden-era Justice Department had until Monday to respond. In its filing, it acknowledged that its earlier filings “could have been clearer, and it deeply regrets the confusion that caused.” But it also insisted that its “declarations and briefs were accurate and submitted in good faith.”
The decision that Mr. Barr was actually making, the department said, was about whether to decide whether the evidence was sufficient to charge Mr. Trump someday — not whether he should be charged at that moment, since longstanding department legal policy is to consider sitting presidents temporarily immune from prosecution while they are in office.
And, it said, the legal analysis in the second part of the memo — the portion it is appealing to keep secret — was, in fact, pre-decisional, even though the memo was completed after Mr. Barr made his decision, because it memorialized legal advice that department lawyers had previously provided to the attorney general.
President Biden will meet President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Geneva on June 16, the White House said Tuesday, the first face-to-face session between the two leaders at a time of extraordinary tension over Ukraine, cyberattacks and a raft of new nuclear weapons Mr. Putin is deploying.
The meeting is expected to focus heavily on preventing nuclear escalation. Geneva was also the site of the 1985 summit between Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, and Ronald Reagan, also focused on the nuclear arms race.
But Mr. Biden is also expected to use the summit to raise the issues he talked about with Mr. Putin on the telephone recently, just before the United States announced a new series of financial sanctions against Russian officials and financial institutions.
Those include the prosecution and jailing of Aleksei A. Navalny, the opposition leader that Mr. Putin’s intelligence services attempted to kill with a nerve agent. And Mr. Biden plans to focus on the rising tide of cyberattacks directed at the United States, starting with SolarWinds, a sophisticated entry into network management software used by most of the United States’ largest companies and by a range of government agencies and defense contractors.
Two weeks ago Mr. Biden said he would raise with Mr. Putin the more recent ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, which shut down nearly half the supply of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel to the East Coast. That attack arose from a criminal group, but Mr. Biden accused Russia of harboring the ransomware criminals.
For Mr. Biden, the encounter will come after two successive meetings with allies, first the Group of 7 allies — a group the Russians had been part of for several years when integration with the West seemed possible — and NATO allies. Mr. Biden will then travel from Brussels, where NATO is headquartered, to Geneva, where his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, met his Russian counterpart last weekend to plan the meeting of the two global adversaries.
For all the tensions, Mr. Biden has repeatedly said that the United States and Russia must find a way to have a “stable, predictable” relationship.
Russia, despite continued saber-rattling directed at the West, has signaled optimism about the upcoming talks. For Mr. Putin, a high-profile presidential summit can help deliver what he has long sought: respect for Russia on the world stage. And he is sure to repeat his message that the United States must respect Russian interests — especially inside Russia, where the Kremlin claims Washington is trying to undermine Mr. Putin’s rule, and in Eastern Europe.
Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said Tuesday that Mr. Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken had taken a “frank” and “respectful” tone in their recent talks with their Russian counterparts. While Mr. Biden has taken a more critical tone toward Russia than did President Donald J. Trump, some analysts say that the Kremlin also sees benefits in being able to negotiate with a more predictable administration in Washington.
“We can expect — if efforts are made by both sides — that certain irritants will be removed,” Mr. Lavrov told reporters Tuesday. “This won’t be fast and it won’t be easy.”
Mr. Gorbachev — the Soviet leader, now 90, whose 1985 summit with Mr. Reagan in Geneva helped defuse Cold War tensions — said on Tuesday that he was happy to hear Mr. Putin would meet Mr. Biden, whom he cast as a more reliable counterpart than Mr. Trump.
“There’s a new president in the White House now, and you can negotiate with him,” Mr. Gorbachev said, according to the Interfax news agency. “The prior team turned out to be unreliable.”
The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, a former Obama administration health official, to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, one of the most powerful posts at the Department of Health and Human Services. The vote was 55 to 44, with five Republicans joining Democrats to support her confirmation.
As the official charged with overseeing providing services to poor and older Americans in Medicare and Medicaid, Ms. Brooks-LaSure will manage roughly $1 trillion of the federal budget in addition to the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplaces and regulations.
Ms. Brooks-LaSure, the first Black woman to lead the agency, comes to the job with extensive experience in federal health policy. She was a senior official at the agency under President Barack Obama in the years after the health care law passed, working to expand coverage. She also worked on health issues as a congressional staffer and member of the White House’s budget office. She was a managing director at the health consulting firm Manatt before President Biden nominated her as Medicare chief.
The agency is key to fulfilling Mr. Biden’s health care agenda. His administration and a Democratic-controlled Congress are aiming to engineer the first substantial reforms and expansion of the Affordable Care Act since its passage, in part through billions of dollars in the American Rescue Plan. The administration opened a highly publicized special enrollment period in February that allowed the uninsured to sign up for coverage right away, drawing in over a million Americans.
Her nomination was challenged by Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, who opposed a recent Medicaid policy decision affecting his home state. Biden administration Medicaid officials withdrew the approval of a waiver that would have given hospitals more than $100 billion in federal dollars over a decade for treating patients without insurance. The officials said the waiver’s approval, which was granted in the closing days of the Trump administration, had been rushed. The agency has also begun rolling back state Medicaid work requirements approved in some states during the Trump administration.
Ms. Brooks-LaSure’s predecessor, Seema Verma, feuded bitterly during the Trump administration with the H.H.S. secretary, Alex M. Azar II, and she attracted inspector general and congressional investigations into her agency’s lavish spending on outside consultants who worked to polish her personal brand.
President Biden will meet on Tuesday with relatives of George Floyd to mark the anniversary of his death and the start of a nationwide racial reckoning against police brutality.
The meeting at the White House will be private, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a news conference on Monday. Several members of the family, with whom Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden had developed relationships, will attend, including several siblings, and his daughter, Gianna.
A video of the killing of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis — which showed an officer kneeling on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds — sparked the largest racial justice protests in generations and brought a sense of urgency to negotiations over police reform in Congress . The officer at the center of Mr. Floyd’s killing, Derek Chauvin, was convicted last month of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
But police reform legislation, known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, has languished in Congress, as parties spar over a measure that would alter a legal shield known as qualified immunity that protects police officers in brutality cases. The White House had set its own deadline for Congress to pass the legislation, which Ms. Psaki acknowledged on Monday will not be met.
During his address before a joint session of Congress last month, Mr. Biden, invoking a conversation he had with Mr. Floyd’s young daughter, called on lawmakers to pass legislation by the first anniversary of Mr. Floyd’s death.
When asked during the news conference on Monday about progress on police reform, Ms. Psaki indicated that the White House remained relatively optimistic. Mr. Biden spoke on Friday with Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey and an outspoken proponent of police reform, she said, adding that Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Republicans’ lead negotiator on the issue, also expressed interest in continued talks.
“The president is still very much hopeful that he will be able to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law,” she said.
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia drew a rare condemnation on Tuesday from the top House Republican for the latest in a series of comments she has made comparing mask and vaccine mandates to the treatment of Jews by Nazis during the Holocaust.
In a series of posts on Twitter, Ms. Greene, a right-wing provocateur who previously endorsed a series of violent and racist conspiracy theories, has railed against decisions made by private businesses to impose vaccine mandates or drop mask requirements only for vaccinated individuals. Her comments came amid an uptick in anti-Semitic attacks on Jews across the nation.
“Vaccinated employees get a vaccination logo just like the Nazi’s forced Jewish people to wear a gold star,” she wrote in one post on Tuesday.
In another, referring to a university barring unvaccinated students from attending classes in person, she wrote: “It appears Nazi practices have already begun on our youth. Show your VAX papers or no in person class for you. This is exactly what I was saying about the gold star.”
After Ms. Greene was met with a wave of public criticism, she refused to apologize, arguing that she had never compared mask mandates specifically to the Holocaust, which killed six million Jews, “only the discrimination against Jews in the early years.”
Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the minority leader, who has largely refrained from criticizing Ms. Greene even as she has courted controversy, issued a statement condemning her language, as did his top two deputies.
“Marjorie is wrong, and her intentional decision to compare the horrors of the Holocaust to wearing masks is appalling,” Mr. McCarthy said in a statement. “The Holocaust is the greatest atrocity committed in human history. The fact that this needs to be stated today is deeply troubling.”
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, also denounced her comments, telling CNN they were “outrageous” and “reprehensible.”
Mr. McConnell earlier this year said Ms. Greene’s “loony lies and conspiracies” were a “cancer for the Republican Party and our country.”
Those rebukes came after one from the Republican Jewish Coalition, a prominent organization whose political action committee contributes generously to the G.O.P.
Matt Brooks, the group’s executive director, said Ms. Greene’s Holocaust comparisons were “wrong and inappropriate,” calling her “an embarrassment to yourself and the GOP.”
Her most recent comments have created yet another problem for House Republican leaders, who recently attempted to take control of their political message by purging Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her post as the conference chair, citing her refusal to ignore former President Donald J. Trump’s lie of a stolen election. And they muddled a theme that Republicans have attempted to highlight in recent days as they have tried to paint Democrats as insufficiently supportive of Israel and the American Jewish community.
Mr. McCarthy declined earlier this year to take action against Ms. Greene for her earlier incendiary statements, including one in which she endorsed assassinating Speaker Nancy Pelosi, even as he disavowed the remarks themselves.
Some Republicans had argued it would be unfair to rebuke Ms. Greene for comments she made before serving in Congress. But after it emerged that the Georgia freshman had also suggested that a devastating wildfire that ravaged California was started by “a laser” beamed from space and controlled by a prominent Jewish banking family, the Republican Jewish Coalition stepped in and said it was “working closely with the House Republican leadership regarding next steps.”
Ms. Greene was never disciplined.
A spokesman for Ms. Pelosi on Tuesday said Mr. McCarthy’s refusal to punish Ms. Greene and his days of silence about her Holocaust remarks “has spoken volumes about his allegiance to the most extreme elements” of his party.
Asked if the freshman congresswoman should be censured or expelled from Congress for her new comments, Ms. Pelosi responded: “I think she should stop talking.”
Efforts to question the legitimacy of the 2020 election in two swing states, nearly seven months after voting concluded, illustrate former President Donald J. Trump’s continued hold over the Republican Party and the staying power of his false election claims.
Georgia has already counted its presidential vote three times, with the same result: Mr. Trump lost. But a judge ruled last week that a group of voters must be allowed to view copies of all 147,000 absentee ballots cast in the state’s largest county.
The plaintiffs, led by a known conspiracy theorist, will have no access to the actual ballots, and the review will not change the outcome. But the ruling was a victory for a watchdog group that says it is looking for instances of ballot fraud, parroting Mr. Trump’s election lies.
At the same time, a Republican-led recount of more than two million ballots cast in Maricopa County, Ariz., resumed on Monday despite bipartisan denunciations of the effort as a political sham.
Even though Mr. Trump is not directly involved in the continued examinations of votes in Arizona and Georgia, his supporters’ widespread refusal to accept the reality of Mr. Biden’s victory has led Republicans to find new and inventive ways to delegitimize the 2020 results.
One of the most interesting new alliances in the Senate these days is between Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, and Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, who have been working together on the Senate Armed Services Committee on possible solutions to sexual assault in the military.
Mr. Hawley has repeatedly praised Ms. Gillibrand for her work on the issue culminating in bipartisan legislation to change the way those crimes are handled. Ms. Gillibrand has often sought out Mr. Hawley, a first-term lawmaker and vocal supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, directly for such work, even though the two are on opposite ends of nearly all things political.
The two are planning on Tuesday to introduce a bill designed to improve one of the military’s sexual assault response coordinators, which came under scrutiny after the killing of a soldier at Fort Hood, and an ensuing report that showed many members of the coordination team lacked training to help victims of assault.
Under their measure, the Defense Department would have to more carefully evaluate the programs and report their findings to Congress, and increase training and other resources to professionalize the military justice system. It is one of a few initiatives Ms. Gillibrand and Mr. Hawley have joined together on — and attracted bipartisan support for — to try and make the military more accountable.
“This legislation would aid the Department of Defense in identifying next steps to professionalize the role of Sexual Assault Response Coordinator throughout all branches of the military,” Mr. Hawley said in a statement.
President Biden is coming under increasing pressure to abandon a Trump-era immigration rule that has sealed off the United States to most migrants during the pandemic, with human rights officials and two of the administration’s own medical consultants saying it endangers vulnerable families.
The policy, known as Title 42, allows border agents to turn away migrants without giving them a chance to apply for protections in the United States. White House officials declined to comment on the record, but a government official said the White House position was that the rule was necessary given the many Americans who had not been fully vaccinated. Like the Trump administration, the Biden administration has defended the policy as a “public health directive” rather than an immigration tool.
On Monday, two physicians who work as consultants for the Department of Homeland Security sent a letter to members of Congress saying the rule had the “perverse impact” of encouraging parents to send their children to cross the border alone, since Mr. Biden has chosen not to immediately turn away minors. Most single adults and many migrants traveling together as families are immediately turned back.
The complaint came days after Filippo Grandi, the United Nations’ high commissioner for refugees, who rarely criticizes U.S. immigration policy, said the expulsions have had “serious humanitarian consequences.”
The Biden administration’s embrace of Title 42 highlights a difficult balancing act for the president: how to make good on his pledge to have a more compassionate approach to migrants fleeing poverty and persecution while managing a surge of people who want to come to the United States. The topic also leaves Mr. Biden open to political attacks from Republicans and moderate Democrats who say he risks losing control of the border.
President Donald J. Trump’s former White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, has agreed to testify privately before the House Judiciary Committee next week about Mr. Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Lawyers for House Democrats, the Justice Department and Mr. McGahn had tentatively struck a deal on the testimony earlier in May. But the scheduling was delayed for weeks while they waited to see what Mr. Trump would do.
Mr. McGahn’s agreement to testify was contingent on there being no active legal challenge to his participation, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the legal and political sensitivity of the matter.
Under the deal, according to a court filing, there will be strict limits on the testimony Mr. McGahn will provide. He will testify behind closed doors for a transcribed interview, rather than in public.
Immediately after the deal was announced this month, a lawyer for Mr. Trump conveyed that the former president intended to seek a court order blocking Mr. McGahn’s testimony. But late last week, the people said, Mr. Trump’s lawyer — Patrick Philbin, a former deputy White House counsel who is continuing to help handle his post-presidential legal affairs — said that Mr. Trump would not intervene after all.
The McGahn case stems from the House Judiciary Committee’s desire in 2019 to question him about matters related to his role as a key witness in Robert S. Mueller III’s account of efforts by Mr. Trump to impede the Russia investigation.