It’s been a long-standing policy of the United States Justice Department to do everything possible to avoid doing anything that would present the appearance of interfering in our national elections.
Hence the uproar when then-FBI Director James Comey announced just two weeks before the 2016 election that it was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server while remaining publically mum about its ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign in its counter-intelligence inquiry about Russian electoral interference.
As it turned out, Hillary Clinton’s email scandal turned out to be an overblown bust of an investigation while the accusations that senior members of the Trump campaign coordinated with Russian agents were proven accurate by the inquiry conducted by the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee.
Now ProPublica has revealed that the Trump Department of Justice under Attorney General William Barr “has weakened its long-standing prohibition against interfering in elections,” citing the two anonymous Justice Department officials.
Officially, the Department’s mandate to avoid interfering in elections, in place since 1980, “generally bars prosecutors not only from making any announcement about ongoing investigations close to an election but also from taking public steps — such as an arrest or a raid — before a vote is finalized because the publicity could tip the balance of a race,” as ProPublica writes.
The non-profit news outlet specialing in investigating abuses of power today revealed that:
“According to an email sent Friday by an official in the Public Integrity Section in Washington, now if a U.S. attorney’s office suspects election fraud that involves postal workers or military employees, federal investigators will be allowed to take public investigative steps before the polls close, even if those actions risk affecting the outcome of the election.”
“The email announced ‘an exception to the general non-interference with elections policy.’ The new exemption, the email stated, applied to instances in which ‘the integrity of any component of the federal government is implicated by election offenses within the scope of the policy including but not limited to misconduct by federal officials or employees administering an aspect of the voting process through the United States Postal Service, the Department of Defense or any other federal department or agency.’”
The specific mention of postal service workers and military personnel in the email dovetails perfectly and conveniently with the many outrageously false accusations of voter fraud being tweeted out on a nearly daily basis by Donald Trump.
Former DOJ employees are worried that “the exception is written so broadly that it could cover other types of investigations as well,” according to ProPublica. They are also concerned that the rule change could be used to assist the failing Trump campaign as his poll numbers continue to plummet after a disastrous debate performance, a tax scandal, and his inability to keep even himself safe from. the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s unusual that they’re carving out this exception,” said Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Obama. “It may be creating a predicate for the Justice Department to make inflated announcements about mail-in vote fraud and the like in the run-up to the election.”
Gupta is right to be afraid.
“In a break from long-standing practice last month, a U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania publicly announced that the DOJ was investigating whether local elections officials illegally discarded nine mail-in military ballots. Attorney General William Barr personally briefed Trump on the case before it was publicly announced, The Washington Post reported. Trump later cited it as an example to support his claims of widespread mail-in voter fraud, a false assertion Barr has has helped amplify. It’s not clear where the federal probe stands, but Pennsylvania’s top elections official said early indications point to an error, not fraud,” ProPublica writes.
“The new policy carveout, Gupta said, could be designed to both justify the widely criticized Pennsylvania announcement and open the door for more such moves in the coming weeks,” the publication continued.
Other former DOJ officials also expressed their serious concerns.
“It alarms me that the DOJ would want to authorize more of the same in and around the election,” said Justin Levitt, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the department’s civil rights division. “It’s incredibly painful for me to say, but given what we’ve seen recently, Americans shouldn’t trust DOJ announcements right now.”
The new email changing the non-interference policy was sent to a group of dozens of prosecutors around the country known as district election officers. These officials monitor the conduct of election procedures and handle public complaints on Election Day about any alleged crimes. They serve as the main federal points of contact for local election officials during the election season.
The news that ProPublica uncovered should only serve to further encourage voters to support Joe Biden to support a return to normal ethics in government after the corrupt excesses of the Trump administration.
Let’s hope that the rule change doesn’t ensure a heavy Department of Justice hand on the scales of the election, but given the track record of this administration so far, expect the dirty tricks to begin shortly.
Original reporting by Robert Faturechi and Justin Elliott at Pro Publica.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.