On Monday afternoon the Department of Justice put out a statement confirming that Attorney General William Barr had authorized federal prosecutors and investigators to initiate federal criminal investigations into “substantial allegations” of vote fraud in the Presidential election.
The whinging and hand-wringing on the left began immediately, with claims that Barr was again using the Justice Department as a weapon against President Trump’s political opponents, and there is no evidence of vote fraud that warrants any federal investigations.
Then, to cap things off, late in the day on Monday the left-wing press — led by the NYT I believe — shrieked that the Director of the DOJ’s Election Crimes Branch had resigned in protest following the announcement by AG Barr. That individual’s name is Richard Pilger, who is a “career” official with the Department of Justice.
But let’s draw back the curtain a bit more so everyone can understand what is happening here behind the scenes.
“Federal prosecutor” is a generic term that covers two groups of DOJ lawyers — Assistant United States Attorneys who work in 94 US Attorneys’ Offices around the country, and DOJ Trial Attorneys who work out of DOJ Headquarters in Washington, D.C., in the DOJ Criminal Division. Within the Criminal Division, there is the “Public Integrity Section” which handles most cases involving public office holders or other government officials. Within the Public Integrity Section is the Election Crimes Branch.
The DOJ Trial Attorney’s view themselves as “subject matter specialist” — experts on specific areas of law within the jurisdiction of their specific section. Among the Sections, Public Integrity was far and away the leader in the “This is our subject matter specialty so stay the hell out of what we do” attitude. It was neck-and-neck between them and Civil Rights, but Civil Rights trial attorneys were a source of amusement for AUSAs because they were clueless about how to actually try a case in a courtroom. Public Integrity was better — at least a little bit better.
Someone in the Public Integrity Election Crimes Branch got the brilliant idea in 2006 that they should write a manual on investigating and prosecuting various types of election-related crimes.
What they produced was a 345-page monstrosity, the most useful function of which was as a doorstop.
When Richard Pilger took over as Director of the Branch, he decided that the manual needed updating. So under his guidance it was updated and edited down some in 2017 — now it’s only 296 pages long.
I’ve never brought myself to read the thing, but in merely “perusing” it, I noticed that about 900 times in the course of 300 pages the Election Crimes Branch tells the AUSAs that they must consult with and obtain approval from Election Crimes Branch before an AUSA or FBI Agent can do anything operationally in response to an allegation that an election-related crime might have taken place. Without their approval, there would be no investigation.
What happened today, and what prompted Pilger to “quit” was that AG Barr said to US Attorneys – “If you have substantial allegations of election fraud in your district, you have authority to investigate that.” Basically, Barr cut Pilger and Election Crimes Branch out of the picture as “gatekeepers” to starting investigations in places like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Atlanta.
I’m going to quote someone anonymously who worked with Pilger, and sent me a note today after Pilger’s resignation was reported in the press. I know who I’m quoting (obviously), and that person’s experience is beyond dispute — but you’ll need to take my word for that. This person worked with Pilger on election fraud cases.
I worked with Pilger… He was so arrogant and never let us pull the trigger on election fraud cases. He resigned because of this right here… Barr told “prosecutors they could take investigative steps such as interviewing witnesses during a period that they would normally need permission from the elections crimes section.” Before Barr’s annoucement, that permission came directly and solely from Pilger. He was arrogant and lazy… He lost the power today so now he’s walking. Good riddance.
It reminds me of a comment a former colleague once made to DOJ inspectors about the Criminal Section Chief in our office — “He’s a large stationary boulder in a fast-moving stream.” Apparently, Pilger became the expert at making sure there were no investigations.
Further, I’m quite certain this authorization on Barr’s part was not unsolicited.
On election night, after midnight, there was an email sent by the Deputy Attorney General’s Chief Assistant to all US Attorney’s Offices telling them that the statute prohibiting having armed agents at polling places did not apply to vote tabulation locations. The only explanation for why such a clarification went out after midnight on Tuesday is that someone in a US Attorney’s Office wanted to know if FBI Agents could go to vote counting locations to observe what was taking place. That kind of request doesn’t materialize out of thin air — it was made because some FBI office somewhere received a complaint about how matters were being handled at a vote counting location.
Contrary to popular belief, the FBI has not been sitting on its hands all week while evidence of suspicious activity has been developing in multiple locations across the country. I will again quote the specific federal statute that is in play here:
Title 52, USC §20511 — Any person who:
(2) knowingly and willfully deprives, defrauds, or attempts to deprive or defraud the residents of a State of a fair and impartially conducted election process, by-
(A) the procurement or submission of voter registration applications that are known by the person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent under the laws of the State in which the election is held; or
(B) the procurement, casting, or tabulation of ballots that are known by the person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent under the laws of the State in which the election is held,
shall be fined in accordance with title 18 (which fines shall be paid into the general fund of the Treasury, miscellaneous receipts (pursuant to section 3302 of title 31), notwithstanding any other law), or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.
If you are an election official or poll worker, you cannot purposely procure or tabulate fraudulent votes. It’s a crime. It is a crime by the specific individuals involved. The investigation may or may not impact the vote totals in the election, but that is not a consideration for whether or not to investigate and determine if criminal activity took place.
But, missing from much of the coverage of what Barr did today is the most significant point — what his statement did was authorize the use of federal grand juries to gather evidence.
FBI agents will often conduct interviews and gather evidence without the benefit of grand jury assistance. But federal prosecutors don’t go forward with new cases without opening up a grand jury matter.
THIS is what the left-wing pundit class is so alarmed about over AG Barr’s announcement.