Attorney General William P. Barr, wading into President Trump’s unfounded accusations of widespread election irregularities, told federal prosecutors on Monday that they were allowed to investigate “specific allegations” of voter fraud before the results of the presidential race are certified.
Mr. Barr’s authorization prompted the Justice Department official who oversees investigations of voter fraud, Richard Pilger, to step down from the post within hours, according to an email Mr. Pilger sent to colleagues that was obtained by The New York Times.
Mr. Barr said he had authorized “specific instances” of investigative steps in some cases. He made clear in a carefully worded memo that prosecutors had the authority to investigate, but he warned that “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries.”
Mr. Barr’s directive ignored the Justice Department’s longstanding policies intended to keep law enforcement from affecting the outcome of an election. And it followed a move weeks before the election in which the department lifted a prohibition on voter fraud investigations before an election….
Mr. Barr has privately told department officials in the days since the election that any disputes should be resolved in court by the campaigns themselves, according to three people briefed on the conversations. He has said that he did not see massive fraud, and that most of the allegations of voter fraud were related to individual instances that did not point to a larger systemic problem, the people said….
Mr. Pilger, a career prosecutor in the department’s Public Integrity Section who oversaw voting-fraud-related investigations, told colleagues he would move to a nonsupervisory role working on corruption prosecutions.
“Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications,” he wrote, “I must regretfully resign from my role as director of the Election Crimes Branch.” A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Mr. Pilger’s message.
Justice Department policies prohibit federal prosecutors from taking overt steps, like questioning witnesses or securing subpoenas for documents, to open a criminal investigation into any election-related matter until after voting results have been certified to keep their existence from spilling into public view and influencing either voters or local election officials who ensure the integrity of the results.
“Public knowledge of a criminal investigation could impact the adjudication of election litigation and contests in state courts,” the Justice Department’s longstanding election guidelines for prosecutors say. “Accordingly, it is the general policy of the department not to conduct overt investigations.”…
ustice Department investigators are looking into a referral from the Republican Party in Nevada, which claims over 3,000 people who live outside the state voted in its election, the department official said. The official would not say whether the department had opened a full investigation. A federal judge dismissed the claim in court last week.
The department is also reviewing a sworn affidavit written by a postal worker in Erie, Pa., alleging that post office officials devised a plan to backdate mail ballots in the state, the official said.
The local postmaster has denied the allegations and said that the accuser has been disciplined multiple times in the past. That affidavit was sent to the department by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who is a close ally of the president.
In the days after the election, Mr. Barr faced pressure from Mr. Trump and his aides to intervene to help the president. Conservative commentators have criticized Mr. Barr’s lack of action, saying that he was looking the other way.