The DOJ's top election-crimes official stepped down hours after AG Barr authorized investigations into voter fraud in violation of department policy

The DOJ's top election-crimes official stepped down hours after AG Barr authorized investigations into voter fraud in violation of department policy
President Donald Trump listens as Attorney General William Barr speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 1, 2020, in Washington.AP Photo/Alex Brandon
  • The Department of Justice's top election-crimes official resigned Monday after Attorney General William Barr authorized investigations into election fraud in violation of department policy, The New York Times reported.
  • Barr said federal prosecutors could investigate any "substantial allegations" of election-related fraud before states had certified results, contradicting long-standing DOJ guidelines meant to prevent the department from interfering with elections.
  • President Donald Trump has refused to concede the election, instead making unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud and election-rigging.
  • Barr's decision drew swift condemnation from legal experts and former DOJ officials who said the move undermined the independence of the agency.
  • Barr has repeatedly backed Trump's baseless claims of voter fraud and recently rolled back DOJ rules meant to preserve political neutrality.

The Department of Justice's top official in charge of investigating election crimes resigned Monday after Attorney General William Barr released a memo ignoring long-standing policy meant to prevent the DOJ from interfering in elections.

Richard Pilger, the director of the Department of Justice's elections-crime branch, stepped down just hours after Barr sent a memo to federal prosecutors authorizing them to open investigations into "substantial allegations" of election fraud before states had certified their results, which violates department policy, The New York Times reported. There is no evidence to back up any claims of widespread fraud.

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

The report said Pilger, who oversaw the DOJ's investigations into voter fraud, would step into a "nonsupervisory" role.

Monday wasn't the first time Barr sidestepped department guidance against interfering in elections. Last month, he ordered the DOJ to roll back another decades-old election noninterference policy that prevented prosecutors from taking steps that could influence an election.


And beginning in June, he repeatedly floated the bogus theory that hostile foreign powers could interfere in the election by mass-producing counterfeit ballots and mailing them to US voters. Barr told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in September that "logic" proved his argument before acknowledging he had no evidence to back it up.

Barr's memo on Monday drew swift backlash from election-law experts and DOJ veterans who defended Pilger's reputation and excoriated the attorney general's decision as politically motivated.

"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.

"Richard Pilger is a respected apolitical attorney who has been a federal corruption prosecutor for decades," Noah Bookbinder, a former DOJ corruption-crimes prosecutor who is the director of the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, tweeted Monday, adding: "His resigning in protest makes clear to me that something very wrong indeed is happening here."

Barr said that nothing in his memo "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.


Nonetheless, Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, told The New York Times that Barr's decision to reverse DOJ policies on election noninterference "when there is no such evidence — and when the president's clear strategy is to delegitimize the results of a proper election — is one of the more problematic acts of any attorney general in my lifetime."

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

The attorney general's decision Monday also came after President Donald Trump and his allies, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, circulated widely discredited claims of voter fraud, election-rigging, and a vast conspiracy between the Democratic Party and "big media" to tilt the 2020 election in Joe Biden's favor.

As Business Insider has reported, there is no evidence of widespread voter or election fraud, and this election was among the safest and most secure because of the use of paper ballots and voting machines with verifiable paper trails.

Regardless, the Trump campaign, Republican officials, and Trump supporters have filed more than a dozen lawsuits across battleground states to contest the results of the election, some of which have already been denied or dismissed. Almost none of them make allegations of voter fraud and instead sought to discount a small number of ballots that would have had no effect on the results of the election because of Biden's margin of victory.


Earlier Monday, a Republican-aligned firm called Great Lakes Justice Center filed a lawsuit in Wayne County's Circuit Court against Detroit and Wayne County alleging "massive fraud in the election vote-counting procedures" in the election and called for another election to be held, which would violate US law. David Fink, the lead lawyer for the defense, described the lawsuit as "based upon various conspiracy theories, which have already been debunked."