Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson restored on Wednesday the Justice Department policy of holding back on election probes that could disrupt the certification process. The policy was weakened by a shady memo from Attorney General Bill Barr in the days after the election, in which Barr said probes involving election irregularities need not wait for the results to be finalized before moving forward.
At the time, then-President Trump was using false claims of mass fraud to try to stave off his defeat. It was feared that by greenlighting election probes before the results were formalized, Barr was seeking to use the Department to legitimize Trump’s narrative. Barr had spent several months in the lead-up of the election making sensational assertions about mail-in voting. Federal investigations did reportedly move forward in states were Trump and his allies were contesting the results, though ultimately, Barr publicly indicated that the Department probes had failed to turn up evidence of mass fraud that would have reversed Biden’s win. Trump, meanwhile, tried to find other ways to weaponize the Department to attack the results after Barr left his post in December.
While Barr was not willing to go fully along with Trump’s election reversal schemes, he did seek to hamstring the Department’s more longterm approach to voting rights enforcement on his way out the door. That policy too was rescinded by the Biden administration Wednesday.
On the day before Barr left the Department, he issued a second, more under-the-radar memo — rescinded Wednesday — that sought to limit what the Justice Department could do to enforce voting rights laws when state or local jurisdictions made it harder to vote.
Specifically, Barr’s policy said that “a change in voting laws or procedures by a state or local jurisdiction which readopts prior laws or procedures shall be presumed lawful unless the prior regime was found to be unlawful.”
Barr had tee’d up the policy change as a response to how states adapted their elections to the pandemic, as he said that states should be allowed to decide “whether to maintain or abandon those procedures for future elections.”
Wilkinson said that both Barr memos depart from the Department’s “longstanding policies and practices concerning the timing and scope of enforcement activities in connection with elections and voting procedures.”
Read the Wilkinson memo below: