Attorney General William Barr authorizes election investigations — despite a lack of evidence — before states have certified results

  • Attorney General William Barr has authorized federal prosecutors to investigate any "substantial allegations" of election-related fraud, the Associated Press reported Monday, despite little evidence of such fraud.
  • But Barr said the memo itself didn't include any evidence of voting irregularities impacting "the outcome of any election," according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • Barr's sign-off on investigations before states have certified their results also contradicts existing DOJ policies meant to keep the agency from improperly swaying elections.
  • Election law expert Rick Hasen told Business Insider that he's concerned Barr might be "meddling in the electoral process for political reasons" given his history of making "unsupported claims" about election fraud.
  • Following Barr's memo, which comes as Trump continues to make baseless claims while refusing to concede the election, the DOJ's top election crimes investigator stepped down from his current role, The New York Times reported.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Attorney General William Barr sent a memo to federal prosecutors authorizing them to investigate "substantial allegations" of potential election fraud before states have certified their results, the Associated Press reported Monday. So far, there has been little evidence of such irregularities. 

Voter fraud, including fraud with mail ballots, is extremely rare due to the decentralized nature of the US' election system and states' various measures to verify the authenticity of ballots and detect and prevent fraud — and independent observers have said they have no evidence such fraud occured in this year's elections.

Barr told US attorneys in a memo, according to the AP, that they could open probes "if there are clear and apparently-credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual State."

Secretaries of State from both parties, including in battleground states such as Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, have consistently asserted that voting processes were fair and that they have not discovered evidence of election fraud.

The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Just hours after Barr sent the memo, the DOJ's top voting-fraud investigator, James Pilger, resigned from his role and moved into a different department, The New York Times reported Monday evening.

"Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications," Pilger told colleagues in an email, according to The New York Times, "I must regretfully resign from my role as director of the Election Crimes Branch."

Barr's memo comes as President Donald Trump and some top Republicans continue to make evidence-less claims about widespread voting fraud, while Trump has refused to concede the race after losing to President-elect Joe Biden.

Barr's decision to authorize the investigations before states have certified their vote tallies also contradicts longstanding DOJ policy that aims to prevent the agency from improperly swaying or undermining the integrity of elections.

"Overt criminal investigative measures should not ordinarily be taken in matters involving alleged fraud in the manner in which votes were cast or counted until the election in question has been concluded, its results certified, and all recounts and election contests concluded," stated a 2017 DOJ manual on prosecuting election crimes.

Such "restraint" is meant to "avoid interjecting the federal government into election campaigns, the voting process, and the adjudication of ensuing recounts and election contest litigation," it stated.

Barr said in the memo that the existing policy was "passive and delayed enforcement approach" and could allow illegal behavior to continue unchecked, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Read more: House Democrats plan to keep going on their high-profile investigations into President Trump even after he leaves the White House

However, Barr also said that "nothing here should be taken as any indication that the department has concluded that voting irregulation have impacted the outcome of any election" and that "specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be the basis for initiating federal inquiries," according to The Wall Street Journal.

But election experts were nonetheless concerned about the timing of the move, particularly coming from Barr.

"Given the kinds of unsupported claims Barr has made about election fraud before, I am concerned about his potential meddling in the electoral process for political reasons," Rick Hasen, an election law and administration expert at the University of California at Irvine, told Business Insider.

In the weeks leading up to Election Day, the DOJ rolled back another, decades-old election non-interference policy that would allow prosecutors to launch investigations that may alter the outcome of the election, specifically naming the United States Postal Service — which Trump has repeatedly targeted. In September, Barr repeated false election fraud claims to CNN's Wolf Blitzer, before admitting that he had no evidence to support the claim and was basing his concerns on "logic."

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