Attorney General William Barr has authorized U.S. attorneys across the country to "pursue substantial allegations" of voting irregularities before the 2020 election is certified, according to a memo released Monday. Barr offered no evidence of fraud stemming from last week's election in the document.
"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," Barr wrote. "Such inquiries and reviews may be conducted if there are clear and apparently-credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual State."
The authorization from Barr provides an exception to a long-standing Department of Justice policy meant to prevent the appearance of impacting the outcome of the election. The department manual on the Prosecution of Election Offenses advises, "not to conduct overt investigations, including interviews with individual voters, until after the outcome of the election allegedly affected by the fraud is certified."
Barr's memo quickly prompted the resignation of the Justice Department's top prosecutor for election crimes, Richard Pilger.
In an email to his colleagues tweeted by Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in the Obama administration, Pilger writes, "Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications ... I must regretfully resign from my role." Pilger is expected to stay on as an attorney in the department's criminal division.
The Justice Department press office denied to CBS News that it had any knowledge that Pilger had resigned. But a CBS News email to Pilger was met with what appeared to be an out of office message confirming that he has stepped down as director. The message said in part, "I am no longer the Director of the Election Crimes Branch, and have stepped back to the line at the Public Integrity Section."
The New York Times was first to report Pilger's resignation.
Barr's two-page memo provides no evidence of voter fraud, claims of which have been rampant since news outlets, including CBS News, projected that President-elect Joe Biden had won the presidential race. While Barr said he has looked into some cases, he concedes that "nothing here should be taken as any indication that the Department has concluded that voting irregularities have impacted the outcome of any election."
Prior to the election, Barr helped sow doubt over mail-in ballots, an alternative to in-person voting that was highly utilized this year as a way to vote safely amid the coronavirus pandemic. In September, Barr told CNN that mail-in voting is akin to "playing with fire," and could easily be subject to fraud and coercion.
Earlier Monday, Barr was spotted on Capitol Hill having a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The department declined to comment on that meeting, and a senior Justice Department official denied that any lawmakers, nor anyone from the White House, including the president, asked Barr to send out this authorization.
While Biden has already been projected to have won the presidency, the Electoral College will meet and formally vote on December 14, and will later certify that outcome on December 23.
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