Here’s what the Justice Department’s own manual on the Prosecution of Election Offenses has to say about publicizing investigations in the middle of an election.
In investigating an election fraud matter, federal law enforcement personnel should carefully evaluate whether an investigative step under consideration has the potential to affect the election itself. Starting a public criminal investigation of alleged election fraud before the election to which the allegations pertain has been concluded runs the obvious risk of chilling legitimate voting and campaign activities. It also runs the significant risk of interjecting the investigation itself as an issue, both in the campaign and in the adjudication of any ensuing election contest.
Shorter DOJ: Don’t do it. It’ll just wind up perverting the election even further.
And yet, according to ProPublica, an official in the Public Integrity Section laid out a change in decades old policy, just in time for the November 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.”
So the Department is going to publicly announce investigations and prosecutions of mail-in voting right away, allowing them to be immediately weaponized by a president who has insisted against all evidence that there will be rampant fraud with mail-in ballots?
That’s mighty convenient!
Would this be a retroactive blessing of the breathless announcement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania that they had recovered a whopping nine military ballots that had been thrown away by the Luzerne County Board of Elections? Later it emerged that a temp had opened all the mail at once, mistakenly spoiling a handful of ballots. Hoping to avoid any appearance of wrongdoing, the Board immediately contacted the FBI. And for their pains they found themselves cast by both the president and the White House spokesperson as part of a nefarious plot to steal the election.
The president and the indefatigable Kayleigh McEnany have similarly flogged claims of a Wisconsin postman throwing ballots in a river — or was it a ditch? — when no such ballots ever existed.
It’s not a good look, particularly considering Attorney General Barr’s history of both interfering in prosecutions to help the president’s friends and his blatant distortions of DOJ electoral fraud cases. You don’t have to squint hard to see this move as a prelude to a flurry of announcements from various U.S. Attorney’s Offices that they’re hot on the trail of some evildoing electoral fraudsters hellbent on stealing the election from Donald Trump. And if, after fifty news cycles hyping the narrative that mail-in voting is illegitimate these prosecutions turn out to be nothing at all, well …
¯_(ツ)_/¯Or is it …
Just kidding, it’s this one.
DOJ Frees Federal Prosecutors to Take Steps That Could Interfere With Elections, Weakening Long-standing Policy (ProPublica)
Elizabeth Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.