Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday banned political appointees at the Justice Department from participating in political campaign events, changing a longtime policy at an agency under intense political scrutiny and fending off allegations of partisanship.
“We must do all we can to maintain public trust and ensure that politics — both in facts and appearance — do not compromise or affect the integrity of our work,” Mr. Garland wrote in a memo to Justice Department employees.
Under previous Justice Department policy, government appointees could “passively” attend partisan political activities with permission from their supervisors. They could also attend political events if they had a close relative running for office or were off the clock. Mr. Garland has changed the rule to allow for no exceptions.
“As Department employees, we have been entrusted with the authority and responsibility to enforce the laws of the United States in a neutral and impartial manner,” he wrote.
Mr. Garland also urged Justice Department employees to comply with the Hatch Act, which bans federal employees from running for office or using their government title to pursue political activities.
The policy change comes amid Republicans’ claims that political bias led to Mr. Garland personally approving a search warrant for former President Trump’s South Florida home. They say President Biden and Mr. Garland have weaponized the Justice Department to hurt Mr. Trump’s chances of running for president in 2024.
SEE ALSO: Rep. Jordan demands answers from DOJ watchdog on seizure of Rep. Perry’s cellphone
FBI agents executed the court-approved search earlier this month and seized 11 sets of classified documents as part of an investigation into whether Mr. Trump violated the Espionage Act and other federal laws by mishandling classified documents.
The Justice Department is also overseeing a criminal probe into efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Mr. Garland has pushed back on criticisms that the FBI raid of Mr. Trump’s residence was politically motivated.
“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” Garland said in the days following the search, adding that the FBI and the Justice Department had been subject to “unfounded attacks” on their professionalism.
His announcement comes just days before the Justice Department puts a hold on taking public actions in politically-tinged cases.
Department policy requires prosecutors to refrain from publicly filing charges, executing search warrants, or indicting political figures within 60 days of an election. That’s because such actions could be perceived as politically motivated and designed to impact an election’s outcome.
SEE ALSO: DOJ admits materials seized from Trump may be protected by attorney-client privilege