As the scandal over President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine unfolded last fall and prompted his impeachment, Justice Department public corruption prosecutors had been given the green light to pursue a potentially explosive inquiry into whether he had broken any laws. Attorney General William Barr held them back while Congress investigated the same matter. After the Senate acquitted the president, Barr sent Ukraine-related inquiries to the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn. DOJ higher-ups also stalled a probe into former interior secretary Ryan Zinke.
Long-running tensions between the DOJ Public Integrity Section and the Trump administration that began under Attorney General Jeff Sessions spilled into the open this week after Barr authorized prosecutors to investigate voter fraud claims before the results of the presidential race are certified, prompting the lawyer who oversees voter fraud investigations, Richard Pilger, to step down in protest. The encounters were the latest example of Trump appointees overruling career prosecutors, drawing criticism that the administration was eroding the department’s typical separation from politics. “All of these incidents coming to light show that Barr has been single-minded in his efforts to end the longstanding norm that the Justice Department be independent from politics,” said former acting DOJ civil-rights chief Vanita Gupta. Mistrust between lawyers in the Public Integrity Section and Trump officials began soon after Sessions became attorney general in 2017.