CLC Calls for Urgent Investigation of DOJ Politicization

Issues
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William Barr walking with President Trump and others
US Attorney General William Barr (center left), US President Donald J. Trump (center) and others at St. John's Episcopal Church, on Monday, June 1, 2020. Barr personally ordered law enforcement to forcibly disperse peaceful demonstrators protesting police violence near the White House to enable President Trump to pose for a picture with himself and others outside of St. John’s Church. Photo by Storms Media Group / Alamy Stock Photo

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) called for an investigation of Attorney General Bill Barr, and other senior Department of Justice (DOJ) officials for their unusual involvement in criminal proceedings against associates of President Donald Trump. Their actions did not conform with DOJ’s requirement that officials are required to act impartially and insulate themselves from political influence.

In times of crisis, the integrity of our institutions matters more than ever. For our democracy to work for everyone, the public needs to be able to trust that the government is acting in the public’s interest. Ethics laws, rules, and norms ensure that public officials are not taking advantage of the public’s trust to use our democratic institutions for personal or political gain.

When senior officials flout those rules and norms to politicize public service, it endangers our democracy.

Since CLC’s original complaint, the attorney general has continued to make decisions that imperil the impartiality of DOJ. CLC supplemented our complaint today and reiterated our request for an investigation based on the additional evidence that Attorney General Barr may be violating DOJ requirements.

In recent months, the attorney general repeatedly made decisions that appear improperly driven by political influence.  First, he moved to drop the case against President Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, despite Flynn’s guilty plea that he repeatedly swore to under oath—a highly unusual intervention by an attorney general.

Next, Attorney General Barr appointed a U.S. Attorney to investigate now-debunked allegations that the Obama administration inappropriately requested Flynn’s name be revealed on intelligence reports, which led to his investigation and ultimate guilty plea. Public reporting suggests, however, that Flynn’s name was never hidden on those intelligence reports—so no request to “unmask” Flynn needed to be made.

Third, Attorney General Barr has also waded into other unchartered political waters: threatening vetoes on legislation he dislikes. A bill was moving through Congress that would reauthorize lapsed surveillance powers. Then, DOJ issued a statement that Attorney General William Barr would recommend that President Trump veto the bill, which was highly unusual for the attorney general to wade into veto threats. After the opposition from DOJ and the president became public, House leadership pulled the bill.

Most recently, on June 1, Attorney General Barr personally ordered law enforcement to forcibly disperse peaceful demonstrators protesting police violence near the White House.  After he issued the order, chemical gas and flash grenades were used to clear an area to enable President Trump to pose for a picture with Attorney General Barr and others outside of St. John’s Church. The attorney general’s order was counter to the First Amendment and not in the public’s interest. Once again, it appears to be another decision driven by the improper political influence of the president.    

The independence of DOJ has never been more critical than it is now when the country is in crisis. DOJ must take these matters seriously and investigate the actions of Attorney General Barr that threaten the impartiality and credibility of DOJ.

 

Kedric is CLC's General Counsel and Senior Director of Ethics
Delaney's work focuses on government ethics, accountability, and transparency.