The head of the Election Crimes Branch at the U.S. Department of Justice resigned in protest late Monday after Attorney General Bill Barr issued a new memo giving the green light for federal prosecutors to investigate alleged “voter fraud” in the presidential election. Richard Pilger, a prosecutor with the Justice Department since long before President Donald Trump took office, resigned as Trump still refuses to concede that he lost the presidential election to Joe Biden.
“Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications, and in accord with the best tradition of the John C. Keeney Award for Exceptional Integrity and Professionalism (my most cherished Departmental recognition), I must regretfully resign from my role as Director of the Election Crimes Branch,” Pilger’s letter to colleagues said, according to NBC News.
Barr’s new memo authorizing DOJ to conduct federal investigations before the vote tallies are officially certified by the states is a break from long-held tradition at the agency. Historically, the Election Crimes Branch (ECB) has been instructed to let states certify their own results before any federal intervention.
“Now that the voting has concluded, it is imperative that the American people can trust that our elections were conducted in such a way that the outcomes accurately reflect the will of the voters,” Barr wrote in his memo, which was obtained by the New York Times.
“Although the States have the primary responsibility to conduct and supervise elections under our Constitution and the laws enacted by Congress, 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,” Barr continued.
Pilger’s resignation, first reported by the New York Times, comes on the same day that President Trump fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in a move widely believed to be retaliation for Esper not authorizing the use of active duty troops on American streets during this summer’s civil rights protests. Esper walked across the street from the White House for a photo-op with Trump and Bill Barr in June.
While Barr acknowledges the precedent against premature federal intervention in his Monday memo, the Attorney General suggested that if the normal process was followed, it might be too late to change the winner. Or, as Barr put it, “misconduct cannot realistically be rectified.”
From the memo:
Those policies already allow preliminary inquiries, including witness interviews, to be conducted without ECB consultation. In instances in which they are consulted, the ECB’s general practice has been to counsel that overt investigative steps ordinarily should not be taken until the election in question has been concluded, its results certified, and all recounts and election contests concluded. Such a passive and delayed enforcement approach can result in situations in which election misconduct cannot realistically be rectified. Moreover, this ECB practice has never been a hard and fast rule, and case—specific determinations and judgments must be made. While most allegations of purported election misconduct are of such a scale that they would not impact the outcome of an election and, thus, investigation can appropriately be deferred that is not always the case. Furthermore, any concerns that overt actions taken by the Department could inadvertently impact an election are greatly minimized, if they exist at all, once voting has concluded, even if election certification has not yet been completed.
Every major news outlet declared Joe Biden the winner of the election on Saturday, after the Democrat had safely surpassed 270 electoral college votes and there was no chance of Trump making up the difference with any ballots still outstanding.
And while there’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud, experts are concerned that Barr might be trying to install Trump for a second term in the White House. Barr did, after all, provide plenty of cover for Trump during Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion and accepting help from a foreign power during 2016's presidential election.
“The best-case scenario is that Barr did this to appease Trump and add credibility to his allegations of voter fraud,” Matthew Miller, a former official at the DOJ under Barrack Obama, told the Washington Post.
“The worst-case scenario is that DOJ is planning to intervene in some way and try to throw the election to the president. Neither one is good, but one is much, much worse than the other.”