Previously: Politico reported, Barr OK for election-fraud investigations roils Justice Department:
Attorney General William Barr appeared Monday to make a bid to reassure backers of President Donald Trump who have complained bitterly in recent days that the Justice Department was not taking action to combat alleged voter fraud and other election irregularities.
In a memo to U.S. attorneys, Barr authorized them to open election-fraud investigations “if there are clear and apparently-credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual State.”
“While serious allegations should be handled with great care, specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries. Nothing here should be taken as an indication that the Department has concluded that voting irregularities have impacted the outcome of any election.”
Barr’s memo broadening the authorities of prosecutors in the election season had an abrupt and dramatic impact: prompting the veteran career official running the Justice Department branch that oversees such prosecutions to step down from his post, effective immediately.
Richard Pilger, who was director of the Election Crimes Branch of the DOJ, sent an email to colleagues saying he could not longer do his job in the wake of Barr’s memo, which was issued as the president’s legal team mount baseless legal challenges to the election results, alleging widespread voter fraud cost him the race.
“Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications, and in accord with the best tradition of the John C. Keeney Award for Exceptional Integrity and Professionalism (my most cherished Departmental recognition), I must regretfully resign from my role as Director of the Election Crimes Branch,” Pilger’s letter said, according to a copy obtained by NBC News.
Pilger is remaining at the Justice Department in another capacity, officials said.
On Friday, the New York Times reported that federal prosecutors, assigned to monitor this month’s elections, said they had found no evidence to back any “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities. Federal Prosecutors Push Back on Barr Memo on Voter Fraud Claims:
Career Justice Department prosecutors pushed back this week against a memo by Attorney General William P. Barr that opened the door to politically charged election fraud investigations, saying in a pair of messages that Mr. Barr thrust the department into politics and falsely overstated the threat of voter fraud.
The protests were the latest rebuke of Mr. Barr by his own employees, who have in recent months begun criticizing his leadership both privately and publicly. They argued that Mr. Barr has worked to advance President Trump’s interests by wielding the power of the department to shield his allies and attack his enemies.
On Friday, 16 federal prosecutors across the country who were assigned to monitor elections for signs of fraud wrote to Mr. Barr that they had found no evidence of “substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities.” They also asked him to rescind the memo, saying it thrust the department into partisan politics and was unnecessary because no one has identified any legitimate suspicions of mass voter fraud.
This is a full on public revolt by career prosecutors over Barr’s politicization of DOJ. Absolutely unprecedented. https://t.co/YqUgOmKgyk
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) November 13, 2020
The memo “is not based in fact,” the monitors wrote.
“It was developed and announced without consulting nonpartisan career professionals in the field and at the department,” the prosecutors wrote of the memo. “The timing of the memorandum’s release thrusts career prosecutors into partisan politics.” The Washington Post earlier reported their letter.
On Thursday, a top career prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington said in an email sent to Mr. Barr via Richard P. Donoghue, an official in the deputy attorney general’s office, that the memo should be rescinded because it went against longstanding practices, according to two people with knowledge of the email.
The prosecutor, J.P. Cooney, also said that the fact that Richard Pilger, a longtime department employee who oversees election fraud crimes, chose to step down from that position over the memo was deeply concerning, the people said.
In response, Mr. Donoghue told Mr. Cooney that he would pass on his complaint but that if it leaked to reporters, he would note that as well. Given that the email was born out of a concern for integrity, Mr. Donoghue said in his reply that he would assure officials “that I have a high degree of confidence that it will not be improperly leaked to the media.”
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Others inside the department pointed out that Mr. Barr’s memo was carefully worded and contained caveats that made it unlikely that a prosecutor could meet the threshold to open a case and begin investigating.
“Specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries,” Mr. Barr wrote in his memo. “Nothing here should be taken as any indication that the department has concluded that voting irregularities have impacted the outcome of any election.”
Department lawyers often engage in heated debates over policies, investigations and prosecutions, but they rarely put their criticisms in writing and then send them to top officials.
But Mr. Barr’s memo churned up rancor among prosecutors who work on election fraud, in large part because Mr. Trump himself was making false claims about widespread voter fraud. Even the specter of such an investigation into votes for the presidential race could shade the integrity of the election.
Mr. Pilger, the prosecutor who oversees election fraud at the department’s headquarters in Washington, stepped down from his supervisory role in protest a few hours after it was issued; and other lawyers affected by the memo began to devise plans for how to push back on Mr. Barr’s authorization and what to do should a U.S. attorney announce an election-related investigation, according to three people with knowledge of these discussions.
Nearly two dozen state attorneys general urged U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr to reverse course on a recent change that allows the U.S. Department of Justice to interfere with election results. ‘Respect the Will of the People’: Democratic AGs Call Out Bill Barr for DOJ’s ‘Un-American’ Election Interference:
“This troubling last-minute policy change, which caused the director of the Election Crimes Branch of the U.S. Department of Justice to resign from his supervisory role, is wrong,” said Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul (D) in a press release accompanying an open letter making the plea. “For no apparent reason other than to indulge the outgoing president’s baseless attacks on the integrity of the election, AG Barr has further undermined USDOJ’s [sic] independence.”
On November 9, Barr issued a controversial memo titled “Post-Voting Election Irregularity Inquiry” which authorized federal prosecutors to investigate “substantial” allegations of voting irregularities that occurred during the 2020 general election.
Before Barr issued the memo there was no evidence of any such fraud occurring. Since Barr’s memo was released—and largely panned as a dangerous and unfortunate vote of confidence in President Donald Trump’s increasingly failing efforts to overturn his loss to Joe Biden—multiple allegations of fraud have withered under the slightest amount of scrutiny and judicial questioning.
“The 2020 election is over, and the people of the United States have decisively chosen a new President,” the brief letter reads. “It is in this context that we express our deep concerns.”
The document sets out the stakes:
[W]e are alarmed by your reversal of long-standing DOJ policy that has served to facilitate that function without allowing it to interfere with election results or create the appearance of political involvement in elections. Your directive to U.S. Attorneys this week threatens to upset that critical balance, with potentially corrosive effects on the electoral processes at the heart of our democracy.
“State and local officials conduct our elections,” the letter goes on. “Enforcement of the election laws falls primarily to the states and their subdivisions. If there has been fraud in the electoral process, the perpetrators should be brought to justice. We are committed to helping to do so. But, so far, no plausible allegations of widespread misconduct have arisen that would either impact the outcome in any state or warrant a change in DOJ policy.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) also blasted the change in a press release.
“This policy reversal is nothing more than a last-ditch effort by a lame-duck administration to desperately latch on to power and sow chaos in our electoral process,” she said. “This election was fair and safe, and even another branch of the Trump Administration has now publicly stated that this election was ‘the most secure in American history.’ The president and Attorney General Barr’s attempts to divide Americans and instill doubt in our elections is un-American and will not go unchallenged.”
The attorneys general note that Barr’s memo is an “abrupt change” that runs counter to 40 years of precedent within the DOJ that prohibited the agency from casting an askance eye at state election results “without adhering to long-established, important guardrails.” All that’s gone now, several legal experts said, due to an obvious attempt by Attorney General Barr to placate the mercurial tantrums of a sore, defeated executive and to shore up distrust in the infrastructure of the country’s electoral system among his most faithful and stalwart political admirers and hangers-on.
“This reversal of departmental policy will erode the public’s confidence in the election,” the letter says. “While we are confident any such investigations will not succeed in overturning the election’s outcome, we believe that using the Department of Justice to stoke these efforts will come at the terrible cost of undermining trust in the democratic institutions on which this country depends.”
Notably, the letter is drawn on the letterhead of progressive Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (DFL) and only contains the names and signatures of other Democratic Party attorneys general. No Republicans signed on to the criticism of Barr’s alleged court jester act for the lame duck Trump presidency.
“The people of the United States have spoken,” the letter concludes. “The U.S. Department of Justice should not interfere with their choice, nor should it undermine confidence in the electoral process. We ask that you respect the will of the people and reverse your decision promptly.”
Restoration of the credibility and independence of the Department of Justice and its Civil Rights Division and Voting Rights Division will be a critical first step for the incoming Biden-Harris administration.