Democrats are turning up the heat on William P. Barr, accusing the attorney general of trying to influence the November presidential election and threatening impeachment after he gave a fiery speech last week lambasting career federal prosecutors.
The chairs of four House committees urged the Justice Department’s internal watchdog to open an “emergency” investigation into whether Mr. Barr is using U.S. Attorney John Durham’s Russia probe as part of an effort to taint the presidential election.
In a letter Friday to Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz, the four lawmakers said Mr. Barr’s comments and actions could be damaging “to public confidence in the integrity of the DOJ and our democratic process.”
“Attorney General Barr has signaled repeatedly that he is likely to allow DOJ to take prosecutorial actions, make public disclosures, and even issue reports before the presidential election in November,” the lawmakers wrote. “Such actions clearly appear intended to benefit President Trump politically.”
The letter arrived the same day Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat, authored a scathing op-ed calling for Mr. Barr’s impeachment and a day after Democratic senators pleaded for Mr. Horowitz to intervene.
A Justice Department spokeswoman and a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office declined to comment.
Democrats were rankled by Mr. Barr’s speech marking Constitution Day last week at Hillsdale College, a school with conservative ties.
Mr. Barr accused his Justice Department prosecutors of acting as “headhunters.” He also compared them to preschoolers, decried them as part of the “permanent bureaucracy” and suggested they should be reined in by politically appointed leaders.
The next day, the Democrats launched a three-pronged assault on Mr. Barr. They targeted the Durham probe in particular.
The Durham probe has been digging into the origins of the Russia collusion probe since May 2019 and veered into a criminal investigation five months later. Democrats now worry that Mr. Durham’s team is cooking up an “October surprise” for the presidential race.
Mr. Barr’s political opponents say his public comments about the investigation could violate Justice Department policy if Mr. Durham releases a report or brings indictment within 60 days of Election Day.
Mr. Barr in 2018 authored a report saying politically charged prosecutorial and law enforcement actions must be avoided within 60 to 90 days of Election Day, but Democrats contend Mr. Barr has changed his mind. They cite an interview the attorney general had earlier this year with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
“You don’t indict candidates or perhaps someone that’s sufficiently close to a candidate, that it’s essentially the same, you know, within a certain number of days before an election. But you know, as I say, I don’t think any of the people whose actions are under review by Durham fall into that category,” he said in the interview.
Democrats fear Mr. Barr will try to skirt Justice Department rules by having Mr. Durham issue a report instead of filing criminal charges.
“With potentially devastating consequences for our democracy, Attorney General Barr appears to have changed his position and no longer supports the long-standing DOJ policy of refraining from taking overt actions or disclosures in the run-up to an election if there is a possibility the action could impact the election,” the Democrats wrote.
They also asked the inspector general to review Mr. Durham’s legal authority to issue a report about a subject who has not been charged in a federal court. That challenge is likely to fail given that special counsel Robert Mueller’s lengthy report touched on several subjects who had not been charged.
Also on Friday, Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat, called on Congress to launch an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Barr. Mr. Cohen said the attorney general is conducting a “politically motivated assault on the rule of law, the norms of procedural due process and our election systems.”
“That is why I have attempted to address these concerns by introducing H. Res 1032, calling for an inquiry into whether Barr should be impeached,” he wrote in the opinion piece published by The Hill. “Some people counsel patience, but I’m reminded of what wise men have always known: If we do not stand up to injustice, our silent indifference will condemn us.”