Barr is rejecting longstanding practices intended to maintain the integrity of elections.
In a departure from long-held norms, the Department of Justice on Friday distributed an internal email laying out changes to its policy on noninterference in elections.
The guidance contained in the Justice Department's internal Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses policy handbook, last updated in 2017, states that "overt investigative steps may chill legitimate voting activities. They are also likely to be perceived by voters and candidates as an intrusion into the election. Indeed, the fact of a federal criminal investigation may itself become an issue in the election."
Justice Department investigations into potential voting-related offenses were therefore to be initiated only after the results of an election were certified.
The changes contained in the internal email are a green light for prosecutors to begin investigations before voting is completed, which could cast doubt on the validity and security of a given election, including the upcoming presidential election on Nov. 3, according to recent reporting by ProPublica.
Over the past months leading up to the election, both Donald Trump and Attorney General Willam Barr have repeatedly lashed out with unfounded claims about the risks to election integrity posed by mail-in ballots. "Your name is associated with a particular ballot. The government and the people involved can find out and know how you voted. And it opens up the door to coercion," Barr said during an appearance in Arizona in September.
Barr also personally briefed Trump on an investigation into nine discarded ballots in Pennsylvania, a story that Trump seized on to paint a picture of a sinister plot to destroy ballots cast by his supporters. In reality, seven ballots had been accidentally mishandled by election workers, with no sinister motive in sight.
Similarly, Trump told reporters last month that he was concerned about ballots being "thrown in a river." White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany later confirmed that what Trump was actually referring to was a report of discarded mail in Wisconsin.
In addition to the falsehoods being peddled by Trump and his attorney general about voter fraud, an administration dead set on delegitimizing mail-in voting now has a new tool in its arsenal. The internal DOJ email creates "an exception to the general non-interference with elections policy" that can be used when "the integrity of any component of the federal government is implicated by election offenses within the scope of the policy including but not limited to misconduct by federal officials or employees administering an aspect of the voting process through the United States Postal Service, the Department of Defense or any other federal department or agency."
Trump has repeatedly attacked and undermined the Postal Service in painting mail-in voting as rife with corruption and fraud.
With the erasure of the DOJ's long-standing precedent of waiting until after an election to begin related investigations, Barr can now publicly investigate almost anything and anyone under the guise of ensuring election security — undermining voters' faith in free and fair elections in the process.
A similar tactic has emerged in Pennsylvania, where Republican members of the state's House of Representatives have attempted to form a "select committee on election integrity" with the power to subpoena election officials and postal workers before the end of an election. Democrats worry that the committee, to consist of three Republicans and two Democrats, could launch investigations aimed at delegitimizing various aspects of the voting process.
In an effort to shed light on the politicization of the Justice Department, more than 1,600 former DOJ staff members published an open letter last week condemning election interference.
"We speak out again now because we fear that Attorney General Barr intends to use the DOJ’s vast law enforcement powers to undermine our most fundamental democratic value: free and fair elections. He has signaled this intention in myriad ways, from making false statements about the security of mail-in voting from foreign hackers to falsely suggesting that mail-in ballots are subject to widespread fraud and coercion."
In an appeal to current Justice Department officials who may be called on by Barr to influence the election through investigations, the former staffers added: "While it is of course true that the DOJ is managed by its political leaders, when those leaders violate their oath to faithfully execute the law, the career staff is obligated by their own oaths of office to uphold the principle of equal justice under law."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.