Attorney General William P. Barr on Monday authorized the Justice Department to probe what he says are “substantial allegations” of voter fraud.
In a memo to U.S. attorneys across the country, Mr. Barr said they could conduct investigations “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 Washington Times obtained a copy of the memo, which was first reported by the Associated Press.
Mr. Barr’s memo comes days after presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden was declared the winner by several media outlets in the 2020 presidential election. President Trump has not conceded and has launched several legal efforts challenging the results in states where the voting margins are razor-thin.
By conducting election fraud investigations, the U.S. attorneys could give Mr. Trump more ammunition for his lawsuits if they uncover serious wrongdoing.
It is an unusual move, since Justice Department policy prohibits any action that could influence the outcome of an election until the vote is formally certified.
“While U.S. Attorneys maintain their inherent authority to conduct inquiries and investigations as they deem appropriate, it will likely be prudent to commence any election-related matters as a preliminary inquiry, so as to assess whether available evidence warrants further investigative steps,” Mr. Barr wrote.
States have until Dec. 8 to resolve election issues, including recounts and legal battles. The Electoral College members meet on Dec. 14 to finalize the outcome.
Mr. Barr’s action prompted the Justice Department official who oversees voter fraud cases, Richard Pilger, to step down, The New York Times reported late Monday.
Mr. Pilger, director of the department’s Election Crimes Branch, will move to a non-supervisory role working on corruption prosecutions, according to the Times.
Biden campaign attorney Bob Bauer said in a statement that it is “deeply unfortunate that Attorney General Barr chose to issue a memorandum that will only fuel the ‘specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims’ he professes to guard against.”
“Those are the very kind of claims that the president and his lawyers are making unsuccessfully every day, as their lawsuits are laughed out of one court after another,” Mr. Bauer said. “But, in the end, American democracy is stronger than any clumsy and cynical partisan political scheme.”
A Justice Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Republicans in recent days have turned up the heat on Mr. Barr to take some action in response to the voter fraud allegations.
Mr. Barr on Monday afternoon was spotted in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Capitol Hill office. Earlier in the day, Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, backed the president’s legal challenges to the voting results.
On Friday, nearly 40 Republican members of Congress sent a letter to Mr. Barr asking him to get to the bottom of the voter fraud claims.
“What are you doing to ensure the integrity of the voting and counting process right now?” the Republicans asked Mr. Barr in their letter.
The lawmakers also called on the attorney general to commit to “using all the resources” at his disposal to ensure only legal votes are being counted “in a fully transparent manner.”
Also last week, the Nevada Republican Party sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department claiming they have received reports of at least 3,062 instances of voter fraud in the battleground state.
“We expect that number to grow substantially,” the party said in a tweet. “Thousands of individuals have been identified who appear to have violated the law by casting ballots after they moved from NV.”
A Justice Department spokesman at the time confirmed that it had received the letter and was investigating.