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Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence

Four House committee chairs are calling on the Justice Department watchdog to open an emergency investigation into whether Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump turns his ire toward Cabinet members Intelligence officials warned Trump that Giuliani was target of Russian influence campaign: report DOJ veteran says he's quitting over Barr's 'slavish obedience' to Trump MORE and other political appointees have improperly influenced the upcoming 2020 presidential election. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerMarijuana stocks see boost after Harris debate comments Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court MORE (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCensoring the Biden story: How social media becomes state media Porter raises .2 million in third quarter Schiff: If Trump wanted more infections 'would he be doing anything different?' MORE (D-Calif.), House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyFears grow of voter suppression in Texas OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Top general negative for coronavirus, Pentagon chief to get tested after Trump result l Top House lawmakers launch investigation into Pentagon redirecting COVID-19 funds Top House lawmakers launch investigation into Pentagon redirecting COVID-19 funds MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenWhy prevailing wage reform matters for H-1B visas Fears grow of voter suppression in Texas Business groups start gaming out a Biden administration MORE (D-Calif.) on Friday called on Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael Horowitz to probe whether Barr's public comments on ongoing investigations and other actions are a violation of the agency's longstanding policy and federal law.

“Attorney General Barr has signaled repeatedly that he is likely to allow DOJ to take prosecutorial actions, make public disclosures, and even issue reports before the presidential election in November. Such actions clearly appear intended to benefit President TrumpDonald John TrumpPolice say man dangling off Trump Tower Chicago demanding to speak with Trump Fauci says he was 'absolutely not' surprised Trump got coronavirus after Rose Garden event Biden: Trump 'continues to lie to us' about coronavirus MORE politically,” the top Democrats wrote to Horowitz.

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“Few actions would prove more damaging to public confidence in the integrity of the DOJ and our democratic process than the perception that federal prosecutorial power can be used to prejudice a pending investigation or influence an upcoming election. As such, we believe it is imperative that this matter be immediately investigated, that you inform our Committees of your decision to open an investigation, and that you report the results promptly to our Committees," they continued.

In particular, Democrats claim Barr and U.S. Attorney John DurhamJohn DurhamTrump turns his ire toward Cabinet members DOJ veteran says he's quitting over Barr's 'slavish obedience' to Trump Report: Barr says review of Russia investigation won't be ready before election MORE have made several public comments on an investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation that they say could violate this Department policy and related guidelines, and they pointed to the possibility of the DOJ releasing a report or summary within 60 days of the election as an action that could influence the election.

The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.

The Democrats noted that a DOJ manual says neither the agency nor its personnel may confirm or comment on ongoing investigations before charges are publicly filed, and that a memo from the agency says that “prosecutors may never select the timing of investigative steps or criminal charges for the purpose of affecting any election, or for the purpose of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party.” 

They also pointed to a previous report in 2018 authored by Barr where he said law enforcement and prosecutorial activities must be avoided when close to an election, “typically within 60 or 90 days of Election Day.”

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In urging Horowitz to examine the matter, they claim Barr has changed this view on these policies, citing an interview earlier this year with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

“I think in its core, the idea is you don’t go after candidates. You don’t indict candidates or perhaps someone that’s sufficiently close to a candidate, that it’s essentially the same, you know, within a certain number of days before an election. But you know, as I say, I don’t think any of the people whose actions are under review by Durham fall into that category,” Barr said during the interview in April.

“That’s big news to me. I had assumed that they would be in the category of people that could not be indicted given the obvious connection to President Trump,” Hewitt replied.

Democrats are asking Horowitz to examine a range of matters, including whether Barr violated DOJ’s policies and procedures related to the Durham probe; how a report released by Durham before the 2020 election would comply with the agency’s policies related to actions near an upcoming election; and how the DOJ has implemented Horowitz’s 2018 recommendations that stemmed from actions by the FBI and DOJ in 2016. They are also calling for an examination of Durham’s legal authority and whether he has the “authority to issue a public report about a subject who has not yet been charged in a federal court.”

Their letter comes after Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by the panel's Ranking Member Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Overnight Health Care: Pfizer could apply for vaccine authorization by late November | State health officials say they need .4B for vaccination effort | CDC: Blacks, Hispanics dying of COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates Major abortion rights group calls for Democrats to replace Feinstein on Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Calif.), also similarly called on Horowitz on Thursday to examine Durham’s probe and possible political interference in the 2020 election.