While Republican Senators are doing Vladimir Putin’s bidding by amplifying Russian propaganda supplied to them by a pro-Russian Ukrainian in their bogus investigation of Burisma and Hunter Biden in an effort to smear Joe Biden, Donald Trump’s henchman at the “Injustice” Department is engaged in something far more sinister.
Fascist regimes prosecute their political opponents and critics to solidify their authoritarian hold on power, but this is exactly what “Billie belongs behind Barr’s” investigate the investigators review of the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign in 2016 proposes to do.
Barr has essentially been promising to do this ever since he sent an unsolicited 20-page memo to the Justice Department in June 2018 critiquing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference, in a bid to lobby for the attorney general job. It is why Trump appointed him.
Politico recently reported William Barr won’t rule out pre-election release of Durham report:
A highly anticipated forthcoming report from U.S. Attorney John Durham on the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation won’t trigger a Justice Department policy against interference in the 2020 presidential race, so the review could be released in the weeks leading up to the November election, Attorney General William Barr indicated to Congress Tuesday.
“I will be very careful. I know what Justice Department policy is,” Barr said during a long-awaited appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. “Any report will be, in my judgment, not one that is covered by the policy and would disrupt the election.”
If you believe that, I have a bridge in New Jersey to sell you where you can shut down traffic. (A bad Bill Stepian joke, Trump’s new campaign manager).
When asked directly by Rep. Debbie Murcasel-Powell (D-Fla.) whether he would commit to not releasing a report from Durham between now and November, the attorney general flatly declined.
“No,” Barr replied.
“In terms of the future of Durham’s investigation, he’s pressing ahead as hard as he can, and I expect that we will have some developments, hopefully before the end of the summer,” Barr said then.
Ryan Goodman, co-editor in chief of Just Security, and Andrew Weissmann, former senior prosecutor in the Mueller investigation, recently wrote in an op-ed at the New York Times, James Comey Wrote a Letter in 2016. What Will Bill Barr Do? (August 5, 2020):
Today, Wednesday, marks 90 days before the presidential election, a date in the calendar that is supposed to be of special note to the Justice Department. That’s because of two department guidelines, one a written policy that no action be influenced in any way by politics. Another, unwritten norm urges officials to defer publicly charging or taking any other overt investigative steps or disclosures that could affect a coming election.
Attorney General William Barr appears poised to trample on both. At least two developing investigations could be fodder for pre-election political machinations. The first is an apparently sprawling investigation by John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, that began as an examination of the origins of the F.B.I. investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The other, led by John Bash, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, is about the so-called unmasking of Trump associates by Obama administration officials. Mr. Barr personally unleashed both investigations and handpicked the attorneys to run them.
But Justice Department employees, in meeting their ethical and legal obligations, should be well advised not to participate in any such effort.
The genesis of the department’s admirable practice of creating a protective shell surrounding an election recognizes that unelected officials at the Justice Department should not take action that could distort an election and influence the electorate. If someone is charged immediately before an election, for instance, that person has no time to offer a defense to counter the charges. The closer the election, the greater the risk that the department is impermissibly acting based on political considerations, which is always prohibited.
It is not mere conjecture that Mr. Barr could weaponize these investigations for political purposes. In both cases, he has already run roughshod over another related longstanding department practice. It holds that department officials should refrain from making public allegations of wrongdoing before prosecutors decide to bring charges, particularly since no charges may emanate from the investigation.
Mr. Barr and President Trump have shown no compunction in publicly discussing these investigations, suggesting wrongdoing by Democrats and deep staters. Mr. Barr promised on Fox News that “there will be public disclosure in some form” in the Durham probe. It should be no surprise that Mr. Barr has followed the lead of his boss; after all, Mr. Trump urged Ukraine to announce an investigation into Mr. Biden, an action that was at the center of his impeachment.
Not so long ago, Mr. Barr and Mr. Trump denounced Jim Comey’s negative public commentary in the 2016 election on Hillary Clinton. Indeed, the president claimed that Mr. Comey’s violation of these bedrock policies contributed to his being fired. During his nomination hearing, Mr. Barr told a Senate committee that he would adhere to these policies.
“If you are not going to indict someone, then you do not stand up there and unload negative information about the person,” he testified. “That is not the way the Department of Justice does business.” He also “completely” agreed with Rod Rosenstein when Mr. Rosenstein wrote in a memo that Mr. Comey’s transgressions during an election season were “a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.”
Indeed, in his nomination testimony, Mr. Barr captured the risk of an attorney general acting for political purposes. Members of the incumbent party, he said, “have their hands on the levers of the law enforcement apparatus of the country, and you do not want it used against the opposing political party.”
He was correct then and is wrong now.
Nevertheless, Mr. Barr may claim that an extraordinary public justification exists for releasing a report, citing the Mueller report as precedent. But there is a very clear difference: The Mueller report was not issued in the run-up to any election.
Mr. Barr has another move to try to justify his actions. He recently told a conservative radio host that the policy on interference with an election applies only to indictments of “candidates or perhaps someone that’s sufficiently close to a candidate, that it’s essentially the same.”
That’s an invention. The policy itself refers to actions that give “an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party.”
Mr. Barr himself recognizes the political effect of department actions beyond those against a candidate. In February, in response to the Justice Department inspector general’s recommendation for a clear policy to open or take actions in significant political investigations, Mr. Barr issued a directive that centralized his control over such investigations. The new Barr requirements covered investigations that “may have unintended effects on our elections” and notably included candidates, senior campaign staff members, advisers, members of official campaign advisory committees or groups, and foreign-national donors.
Take an example from the Mueller investigation. The special counsel’s office knew it could not indict Russian military intelligence officials for the 2016 hacking operation in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections. That’s right: The office could not indict the Russians — not only political candidates or aides. Such matters were so politically fraught that such an action by the special counsel might affect the election.
A key consideration should not be lost: There’s no urgency for the department to take any overt investigative steps or make disclosures until after the election. Even if there has been criminal wrongdoing — which is by no means clear — charges can still be brought in November after the election.
What can be done if Mr. Barr seeks to take actions in service of the president’s political ambitions? There are a variety of ways for Justice Department employees in the Trump era to deal with improper requests. Employees who witness or are asked to participate in such political actions — who all swore an oath to the Constitution and must obey department policies — can refuse, report and, if necessary, resign. Other models include speaking with Congress under subpoena or resigning and then communicating directly to the public. Reputable organizations are at the ready to advise whistle-blowers about the risks and benefits of pursuing these paths.
Above all, with the election around the corner, it’s critical to ensure its integrity and that the Justice Department steer clear of political interference.
Fred Wertheimer, the Founder and President of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to strengthen our democracy, wrote An Open Letter to Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham at Just Security:
John H. Durham
United States Attorney
District of Connecticut
450 Main Street
Hartford, CT 06103
Dear U.S. Attorney Durham:
On May 13, 2019, Attorney General William Barr appointed you to review the origins of the 2016 Justice Department investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. At some point, this review turned into a criminal investigation of the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s efforts to undermine our democracy.
The need for your appointment was hard to understand at the time it was made, since the Justice Department’s independent Inspector General was already conducting a similar investigation that began in March 2018 into the same issues. On December 9, 2019, the Inspector General issued his report and concluded that the 2016 Russia investigation had had a legitimate purpose and that there was no evidence of political bias against President Trump in how the investigation had been initiated or undertaken.
We are now in the closing stages of the 2020 presidential campaign.
Longstanding Department policies issued by the past three Attorneys General who served during an election year make plain that Department actions should not be taken in an election year that could influence or affect an election. George J. Terwilliger III, who served as deputy attorney general under Attorney General William Barr in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, said in 2016, “There’s a longstanding policy of not doing anything that could influence an election.”
I strongly urge you to follow this policy and not to issue any report, or bring any indictments, resulting from your investigation in these closing weeks of the 2020 presidential election.
Any public action by the Justice Department in this pre-election period that is associated with your investigation – which by its very nature involves actions taken during the Obama-Biden Administration – is bound to be used by President Trump for partisan political purposes to promote his re-election effort against Vice President Biden.
In testifying during his Senate confirmation hearings, Mr. Barr was asked whether there are “policies in place that try to insulate the investigations and the decisions of the Department of Justice and FBI from getting involved in elections?” Barr said yes and explained that the party in power has “their hands on the levers of the law enforcement apparatus of the country, and you do not want it used against the opposing political party.” But that is precisely what would occur here if a report is issued on your investigation of the Russia investigation or if indictments are brought at this critical stage of the presidential election.
You should not permit your long and distinguished career in the Justice Department to be permanently tainted, or your personal integrity to be irreparably impugned, by what would plainly be an effort to use your investigation to influence or affect the 2020 presidential election.
Obviously, there is no reason for either a report to be issued or criminal indictments to be brought before the presidential election, other than to influence that election. If the conclusion is reached by you or others at the Justice Department that a report on your investigation should be issued, or that criminal indictments are warranted, these actions should be deferred until after the 2020 presidential election.
The Department’s long established non-interference policy is intended to provide the American people credible assurance that the Department is not being misused for partisan political purposes and that DOJ is carrying out its core mission “to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”
This policy is most critical in the middle of a presidential election and has long been spelled out in Department policy positions.
In March 2008, President George W. Bush’s then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey issued a memorandum to Justice Department employees entitled “Election Year Sensitivities.” The Mukasey Memorandum states:
Department of Justice employees are entrusted with the authority to enforce the laws of the United States and with the responsibility to do so in a neutral and impartial manner. This is particularly important in an election year.
The Memorandum further states (emphasis added):
As Department employees . . . we must be particularly sensitive to safeguarding the Department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality and nonpartisanship.
Simply put, politics must play no role in the decisions of federal investigators or prosecutors regarding any investigations or criminal charges. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors may never select the timing of investigative steps or criminal charges for the purpose of affecting any election, or for the purpose of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party.
This longstanding Justice Department policy against interference in electoral matters, as set forth in the Mukasey, Lynch and Holder memoranda, is intended to prevent the reality or appearance of the Justice Department’s investigative and prosecutorial powers being misused to influence or affect an election. Both Democratic and Republican administrations reportedly have interpreted this policy broadly to cover any steps that might give even the appearance of partisanship in actions or decisions by the Department.
Indeed, in his own memorandum issued in February 2020, Attorney General Barr said that the Department “must be sensitive to safeguarding the Department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality and nonpartisanship.” For this reason, and specifically citing the Mukasey, Lynch and Holder memoranda, Barr said, “the Department has long recognized that it must exercise particular care regarding sensitive investigations and prosecutions that relate to political candidates, campaigns, and other politically sensitive individuals and organizations – especially in an election year.” (emphasis added).
The Department’s policy as set forth in the prior memoranda, and even as described by Barr, is broad, covering not just the filing of indictments of candidates but all “decisions of federal investigators or prosecutors” affecting an election. And the bottom line is clear: “simply put” politics must play “no role” in the Department’s actions.
It is essential that you be guided by this policy in your decisions between now and the November election. There is a growing public belief that Attorney General Barr is intending to release the results of your investigation later this summer or in the early fall, and that indictments may possibly be brought. When asked about this at a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week, the Attorney General did not deny this intent. According to a report in The Washington Post:
Attorney General William P. Barr reiterated this week that he will not wait until after November’s election to release whatever U.S. Attorney John Durham finds in his examination of the FBI’s 2016 investigation into President Trump’s campaign, raising fears among Democrats that Barr and Durham could upend the presidential race with a late revelation.
Any public release of your report in the current closing stage of the presidential election, or any indictments issued during this period as a result of your investigation, clearly will become a major campaign issue and will have political consequences. The longstanding Department policy to avoid such politicization of the Department’s work compels you to prevent this from happening.
If your investigation is not complete, you should not complete it until after the election. If the report is complete, you should publicly oppose any release of your report before the election. The same holds true regarding any indictment made in the closing weeks of the election.
Attorney General Barr was widely criticized, including by a federal judge, for mischaracterizing the findings of Special Counsel Mueller’s report in the period before it was released to the public. You have an obligation to take all possible steps to prevent your investigation from being similarly mischaracterized or misused for partisan political purposes in contravention of the Department’s policy.
As a prominent Department official who has been assigned an investigation of high political sensitivity, with all due respect, your professional reputation and personal integrity are on the line here.
There is no ambiguity about the mandate that “politics must play no role in the decisions of federal investigators or prosecutors regarding any investigations or criminal charges.” There is no ambiguity about the fact that this policy was established to protect the integrity of the Justice Department and the integrity of our elections. There is no ambiguity about the fact that the release of your investigative work in this pre-election period would violate this policy.
I urge you to comply with the Department’s longstanding policy to ensure that the findings of your investigation are not used to affect or influence the 2020 presidential election.
In the event that decisions about issuing a report or bringing criminal indictments are made at higher levels of the Justice Department, you should promptly withdraw your name and publicly disassociate yourself from such actions. It would abandon your own professional duty and responsibility in this matter to allow superiors to direct you to take actions that contravene a Departmental policy designed to protect the integrity of both the Justice Department and the electoral process. Nor should you defer to any implausibly narrow or strained interpretations of the policy that might be made by the Attorney General or others.
I strongly urge you not to participate in, and to disassociate yourself from, any announcement, report release, issuance of indictments, or other public statements or actions prior to the 2020 presidential election relating to the criminal investigation you have been conducting into the origins of the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election or any other related matters in which you are directly involved.
You know that this is coming, it is only a matter of time until the most corrupt Attorney General in the history of the United States does this. The question is how career lawyers at the Department of Justice will respond to this abuse of power to politicize the Department of Justice and to influence an election. Has Barr replaced them all with Trump loyalists? Or are there still career attorneys left with honor and integrity who would protest?