Attorney General William Barr appeared on Monday to make a bid to reassure backers of President Donald Trump who have complained bitterly in recent days that the Justice Department was not taking action to combat alleged voter fraud and other election irregularities.
In a memo to U.S. attorneys, Barr authorized them to open election-fraud investigations “if there are clear and apparently-credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual State.”
In Barr’s directive, obtained by POLITICO and first reported by The Associated Press, the attorney general said he had already approved such probes “in specific instances.” He did not elaborate on the circumstances, those cases related to the presidential race or whether they remained open.
Barr acknowledged that his new instruction departed from the usual Justice Department practice of not launching full-scale investigations into allegations of such fraud until after an election result is certified. However, the attorney general said that policy made little sense in cases in which fraud that could affect the outcome of an election was suspected.
The wording of Barr’s memo left unclear whether it was largely a sop to the president’s supporters or whether it portends serious investigations into last week’s election, of which Joe Biden was declared the winner over Trump.
“While serious allegations should be handled with great care, specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries,” Barr wrote. “Nothing here should be taken as any indication that the Department has concluded that voting irregularities have impacted the outcome of any election.”
Some Barr critics contended the directive was little more than posturing intended to fuel misperceptions that voting fraud on any serious scale affected the 2020 presidential contest.
“Let’s be clear — this is about disruption, disinformation, and sowing chaos,” Vanita Gupta, who served as head of Justice’s Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter in response to word of Barr’s move. “Trump is furious, demanding all ‘his’ lawyers take action. They have no evidence so they’ll push the PR.”
“Voters decided election & overwhelmingly picked Biden,” added Gupta, now president of the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights. “Election was secure & fair. No factual basis for memo. Scaremongering about opening investigations doesn’t change result.”
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