DOJ prosecutors push back against Barr's dubious election memo

It's striking to see 16 career prosecutors, from across the country, collectively denounce the attorney general's post-election efforts.
Image: William Barr
Attorney General William Barr appears before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, on July 28, 2020.Matt McClain / The Washington Post via AP file

According to the Justice Department's own policies, possible investigations into election irregularities are supposed to wait until after the voting tabulations are complete and the results have been certified. Last week, Attorney General Bill Barr decided to ignore his own department's guidelines and issue a provocative memo.

Specifically, the outgoing attorney general issued a directive authorizing prosecutors "to pursue substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities prior to the certification of elections." Soon after, Richard Pilger, who led the Justice Department's Election Crimes Branch, felt the need to resign in the wake of Barr's memo.

As it turns out, this was just the start of the pushback. The Washington Post reported late Friday:

Sixteen assistant U.S. attorneys specially assigned to monitor malfeasance in the 2020 election urged Attorney General William P. Barr on Friday to rescind his recent memorandum allowing investigators to publicly pursue allegations of "vote tabulation irregularities" in certain cases before results are certified, saying they had not seen evidence of any substantial anomalies.

The Rachel Maddow Show obtained a copy of the three-page document sent to Barr, and it's direct in its denunciations of Barr's memo. The prosecutors explained in no uncertain terms that the attorney general's directive, which was plainly at odds with the Justice Department's own policies, "was not based in fact," "was not a product of consultation with career professionals," and put prosecutors exactly where they do not want to be: near the center of "a partisan political debate."

The 16 U.S. attorneys added, "As career professionals we must strictly maintain our neutrality during the campaign, when the public is voting and in the period when voting ends and until the election is certified. We do that so the public has confidence both in the electoral process and in the criminal justice system."

And with that, the prosecutors concluded that Barr should "reconsider" his disinterest in the Justice Department's election non-interference policy and "rescind" the memo the attorney general issued a week ago today.

As best as I can tell, Barr has not taken the prosecutors' advice, but that doesn't mean their effort is irrelevant.

On the contrary, it's extraordinary in its own right for so many career prosecutors, from across the country, to collectively denounce the attorney general's post-election efforts. Indeed, it's among the most striking rebukes of Barr's scandal-plagued tenure.

What's more, it's yet another piece of evidence from within the Trump administration that the president's allegations of voting irregularities are plainly false.