Nearly 2,000 former U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys warned of possible election interference committed by Attorney General Bill Barr in an open letter published late Thursday.
“Each of us took an oath to defend the Constitution and pursue the evenhanded administration of justice free from partisan consideration,” the brief missive reads–noting that the numerous signatories have previously worked under both Republican and Democratic Party administrations.
The letter said that many of the lawyers whose names appear have previously issued similarly dire warnings based on the belief that President Donald Trump and Barr are “weaponizing” the DOJ in order to help advance the 45th president’s “personal interests.” This abusive use of the agency, the signatories say, has done “grave damage to the rule of law” and has sapped the DOJ’s “institutional credibility as an independent law enforcement agency.”
Thursday’s document says that, now, the stakes are effectively the highest they’ve ever been for the rule of law in America:
We speak out again now because we fear that Attorney General Barr intends to use the DOJ’s vast law enforcement powers to undermine our most fundamental democratic value: free and fair elections. He has signalled this intention in myriad ways, from making false statements about the security of mail-in voting from foreign hackers to falsely suggesting that mail-in ballots are subject to widespread fraud and coercion. Most recently, the Department made a premature and improper announcement of a mail-in ballot tampering investigation that the White House immediately used as a talking point in its campaign to discredit mail-in voting and to further the claim it will be rigged against President Trump.
The extraordinary document–containing on-the-record condemnations of the sitting attorney general from previous DOJ lawyers who served under numerous past presidents–represents something not entirely unlike a consensus position from modern DOJ alumni.
“The rule of law and equal application of it used to mean something in the Justice Department,” national security attorney Bradley P. Moss told Law&Crime. “This newest collaboration of former officials is a reminder there are those who stand ready to ensure it survives the Trump era.”
The circumstances that led to the letter being published were also outright mourned by some of the signatories.
“I am sad to be one of the 1,600+ former DOJ lawyers to sign this letter urging current DOJ lawyers — including some of my former colleagues — to thwart the AG’s clear efforts to politicize the DOJ for the benefit of President Trump’s reelection,” said former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman via Twitter. “We must oppose authoritarianism.”
Goldman was also a top lawyer for House Democrats during President Trump’s impeachment.
Far from just an attack on Barr and Trump’s well-documented efforts to sow confusion regarding the integrity of U.S. election systems, the letter is also a call-to-action which asks current DOJ lawyers to report misconduct, refuse to carry out “improper directives” and, if the need arises, resign “rather than violate their oaths of office.”
Also implicated in this call is a direct plea to U.S. Attorney John Durham of CIA torture investigation infamy, who is currently at the helm of a controversial investigation into the origins of the Russiagate investigation.
Again the letter, at length:
[B]ased on Attorney General Barr’s public statements and other evidence, it appears that he will use the ongoing inquiry into the origins of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election — known as the “Durham investigation” after John Durham, the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut tapped by Barr to lead it — to help President Trump’s reelection chances. There are serious questions about whether there is a legitimate basis for the Durham investigation. It has been repeatedly politicized and tainted by President Trump, and both the DOJ’s Inspector General and the bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have concluded that the Russian interference investigation was wholly appropriate and methodologically sound. But even if there is a legitimate predicate for the Durham investigation, there is clearly no justification for taking public action on it in such close proximity to the November election. Such a blatant politicization and abuse of federal law enforcement power risks immense and lasting harm to our democracy and to the integrity and reputation of the DOJ.
To that end, the letter notes the DOJ’s so-called “60-Day Rule,” which purports to prohibit DOJ personnel from issuing public announcements–or otherwise taking public steps–regarding a criminal investigation during the two months prior to an election if such actions are likely to influence the November vote.
The 60-Day Rule, of course, is essentially an internal guideline and is only effective as a rule if it is followed–and there isn’t any formal sanction available for would-be scofflaws. Indeed, former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey infamously ignored the advice during the 2016 election.
This issue, in part, recently motivated Senate Democrats to request an investigation of the Durham investigation’s investigation.
Barr, for his part, endorsed the 60-Day Rule during his own confirmation hearings–but the undersigned say that’s not enough in light of his subsequent actions.
“Barr seems to be ignoring the principle altogether in his handling of the Durham investigation, which he has continued in spite of President Trump’s repeated efforts to use it as a political weapon,” the letter goes on. “Barr has repeatedly violated DOJ policy by commenting on the investigation, to include opining that its subjects committed crimes constituting ‘one of the greatest travesties in American history’ and ‘sabotage’ of President Trump’s 2016 campaign. Such improper political influence from the White House and guilt-presuming comments not only violate DOJ policy, they undermine fundamental fairness and due process.”
[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
Editor’s note: this article has been amended post-publication to include an additional quote.
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]