Attorney General William Barr gave federal prosecutors approval to pursue allegations of “vote tabulation irregularities” before results are certified and indicated he had already done so “in specific instances.” It was a reversal of long-standing Justice Department policy that drew criticism for fueling unfounded claims of massive election fraud pushed by President Donald Trump and other conservatives, the Washington Post reports. Richard Pilger, head of the DOJ election crimes branch, stepped down from his position in protest over Barr’s directive. Barr broached a similar idea weeks before the election and political leadership in Criminal Division, of which the Election Crimes Branch is a part, pushed back. Barr’s memo comes as the Trump campaign and its allies have urged the department to investigate their claims, despite little evidence that such fraud exists. DOJ officials had confirmed they were looking into allegations in Nevada, and had referred information from Michigan to the FBI.
Barr seemed to take aim at previous guidance from the Election Crimes Branch that said prosecutors should not in most instances take overt steps in voter fraud investigations until after election results are certified. The guidance was designed to ensure that voters and state and local election officials, rather than the federal government, decide the results. Barr wrote that the previous directive was never “a hard and fast rule,” and that a “passive and delayed enforcement approach can result in situations in which election misconduct cannot realistically be rectified.” He noted that concern about the Justice Department influencing an election were reduced once voters had finished casting ballots. Former acting DOJ civil rights chief Vanita Gupta said, “Barr is probably doing this because Trump is demanding that he do something, but the voters decided this election, and overwhelmingly voted for (Joe) Biden.”