The Department of Justice has weakened its long-standing prohibition against interfering in elections, according to two department officials, said ProPublica a nonprofit newsroom.
Avoiding election interference is the overarching principle of DOJ policy on voting-related crimes. In place since at least 1980, the policy generally bars prosecutors not only from making any announcement about ongoing investigations close to an election but also from taking public steps — such as an arrest or a raid — before a vote is finalized because the publicity could tip the balance of a race.
But according to a recent email by an official in the Public Integrity Section in Washington, now if a U.S. attorney’s office suspects election fraud that involves postal workers or military employees, federal investigators will be allowed to take public investigative steps before the polls close, even if those actions risk affecting the outcome of the election.
The email announced “an exception to the general non-interference with elections policy.” The new exemption, the email stated, applied to instances in which “the integrity of any component of the federal government is implicated by election offenses within the scope of the policy including but not limited to misconduct by federal officials or employees administering an aspect of the voting process through the United States Postal Service, the Department of Defense or any other federal department or agency.”
Specifically citing postal workers and military employees is noteworthy, former DOJ officials said. But the exception is written so broadly that it could cover other types of investigations as well, they said.
Both groups have been falsely singled out, in different ways, by President Donald Trump and his campaign for being involved in voter fraud. Trump has repeatedly attempted to delegitimize ballots sent through the postal service, just as the country experiences increased voting by mail spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. He has also raised the specter that the ballots of military members, among whom he enjoys broad support, might be suppressed.
Justice Department spokesman Matt Lloyd said in a statement: “Career prosecutors in the Public Integrity Section of the Department’s Criminal Division routinely send out guidance to the field during election season. This email was simply part of that ongoing process of providing routine guidance regarding election-related matters.” He added that “no political appointee had any role in directing, preparing or sending this email.”
Lloyd declined to say whether political appointees such as the attorney general played a role in the policy change itself.
The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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