Attorney General William Barr has launched an attack on the Nov. 3 election. It is unprecedented, highly technical and very bad.
In short, Barr authorized U.S. attorneys to begin immediate investigations into "apparently credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual state." Ostensibly, Barr provided this new authority "to emphasize the need to timely and appropriately address allegations of voting irregularities so that all of the American people ... can have full confidence in the results of our elections."
The problem is that this new authority is in direct contradiction of Department of Justice policy. DOJ already has a procedure in place for allegations of election fraud. Before commencing anything beyond a preliminary inquiry, "United States attorneys shall consult with the Public Integrity Section." Once the investigation is completed, U.S. attorneys must once again consult with the Public Integrity Section before charges can be brought.
Smashing Public Integrity Section
The reason for all this caution is that charges of election fraud can affect the elections they are trying to protect. The Public Integrity Section's reason for existing is to ensure that federal investigations and prosecutions involving judges, elected officials and elections are handled correctly and do not damage our democratic institutions in the process.
So Barr's decision to abrogate long-standing DOJ policy and turn U.S. attorneys loose on election fraud allegations, while the election is still going on and ballots are still being counted, is already shocking. That alone completely eliminates one of the guardrails keeping the Justice Department from becoming a political tool.
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Unfortunately, it gets worse. Barr hasn't cut the Public Integrity Section out of the loop to save U.S. attorneys a little bureaucratic hassle. He has cut the section out of the loop because it would never approve any of the election fraud investigations that Barr says could take place.
Barr claims that "the United States Department of Justice has an obligation to ensure that federal elections are conducted in such a way that the American people can have full confidence in their electoral process and their government."
Except it doesn't. That's not Department of Justice policy. In fact, it is the exact opposite of Department of Justice policy. Let me quote directly from the Public Integrity Section's policy manual on the federal prosecution of election offenses:
"The principal responsibility for overseeing the election process rests with the states. ... It is the states that have primary authority to ensure that only qualified individuals register and vote, that the polling process is conducted fairly, and that the candidate who received the most valid votes is certified as the winner. The federal prosecutor's role in matters involving corruption of the process by which elections are conducted, on the other hand, focuses on prosecuting individuals who commit federal crimes in connection with an election. Deterrence of future similar crimes is an important objective of such federal prosecutions. However, this deterrence is achieved by public awareness of the Department's prosecutive interest in, and prosecution of, election fraud - not through interference with the process itself.
"Because the federal prosecutor's function in the area of election fraud is not primarily preventative, any criminal investigation by the department must be conducted in a way that minimizes the likelihood that the investigation itself may become a factor in the election. The mere fact that a criminal investigation is being conducted may impact upon the adjudication of election litigation and contests in state courts. ... Accordingly, it is the general policy of the department not to conduct overt investigations ... until after the outcome of the election allegedly affected by the fraud is certified."
DOJ thumb on the scale
In other words, the Public Integrity Section was preventing Barr from putting the federal government's thumb on the scale in support of President Donald Trump's claims of massive election fraud. Therefore, it had to go.
I'm not the only person who has reached this conclusion. Attorney Richard Pilger, a 28-year DOJ veteran and head of the Election Crimes Branch of the Public Integrity Section for the past 10 years, resigned from the division within hours of receiving Barr's memo.
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Pilger joins a long line of career federal prosecutors who have found it ethically impossible to follow Barr's instructions. I doubt he will be the last. This latest outrage - casting aside long-standing Justice Department policies in an effort to help Trump claw back a lost election - is by far the worst yet.
Barr cannot be allowed to pervert the justice system in the service of Donald Trump. This isn't about rooting out "election fraud." It's about using the DOJ as a political tool in direct contradiction of standing policies intended to prevent just that. If there were ever a time for the House to step in and hold the administration accountable, this is it. Your move, Madam Speaker.
Republican Chris Truax, an appellate lawyer in San Diego and CEO of CertifiedVoter.com, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump's baseless vote fraud claims boosted by Barr Justice Department