A coalition of attorneys and judges on Thursday said they will support any Justice Department official who resigns or speaks out against what they say is “political misuse” of the department by Attorney General William P. Barr ahead of next month’s presidential election.
In an open letter to the more than 100,000 employees of the U.S. Justice Department, Lawyers Defending Democracy said they will have the backs of anyone who stands against Mr. Barr’s policies.
The organization, which includes hundreds of attorneys and former local and federal judges, did not detail how they will support the employees.
“The public and these professionals should know that if they stand up to such misuse — whether via resignation, public statements, or other forms of expressive dissent — they will have broad support in the legal profession, whose best traditions they will be upholding,” the group wrote.
The letter comes one day after ProPublica reported the Justice Department has tweaked its rules on investigating voting-related crimes.
Under the new rules, if a U.S. Attorney’s Office suspects voter fraud involving postal workers or military employees, they will be allowed to publicly disclose the investigation and work the case before the polls close, even if it might impact an election’s outcome.
Previous rules, implemented in 1980, not only barred prosecutors from making an announcement but also taking public steps before a vote is finalized so it doesn’t influence the election.
Legal groups slammed the decision, saying it could manipulate the election process.
“The recent change in policy is deeply concerning and a retreat from past DOJ policies predicated on the longstanding recognition that public announcements of federal investigations have the potential to impact and influence the voting process,” said Miriam Aroni Krinsky, executive director, Fair and Just Prosecution, which advocates for criminal justice reform. “There is simply no reason to depart from that sensible starting point that has guided federal prosecutors for years.”
While no Justice Department official has publicly spoken out against the election investigation policy change, there have been notable incidents of prosecutors resigning or publicly slamming Mr. Barr.
Last month, James Herbert, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Boston, authored an editorial in The Boston Globe accusing Mr. Barr of politicizing the Justice Department.
Prosecutors on both the Roger Stone and Michael Flynn cases have withdrawn in apparent protest of Mr. Barr’s intervention in cases against two of President Trump’s allies. One prosecutor resigned from the department altogether, while another testified before Congress that Mr. Barr’s interference was improper.
Lawyers Defending Democracy called for more Justice Department officials to speak out.
“We support DOJ attorneys and personnel who stand by their oaths and the Department of Justice’s duty to do justice for the public by not participating in partisan misuse of the DOJ,” the group wrote. “They honor the rule of law, our profession, and the country as we face this crucial test for our democracy.”