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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 BarrDOJ faces big decision on home confinement Democrats, activists blast Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE and other political appointees have improperly influenced the upcoming 2020 presidential election. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse to consider anti-Asian hate crimes bill, protections for pregnant workers this month A historic moment to truly honor mothers Britney Spears to discuss conservatorship in court MORE (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffFree Speech Inc.: The Democratic Party finds a new but shaky faith in corporate free speech Trump backs Stefanik to replace Cheney Gender politics hound GOP in Cheney drama MORE (D-Calif.), House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn MaloneyHuffPost reporter: DCCC will help Dems fend off progressive challengers to 'keep them happy' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Chauvin conviction puts renewed focus on police reform Liberal advocacy group stirs debate, discomfort with primary challenges MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenHouse Republicans request hearing with Capitol Police Board for first time since 1945 Capitol Police officer allegedly told units to only monitor for 'anti-Trump' protesters on Jan. 6 Hillicon Valley: Tech companies duke it out at Senate hearing | Seven House Republicans vow to reject donations from Big Tech 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 TrumpSanders: Reinstating SALT deduction 'sends a terrible, terrible message' GOP braces for wild week with momentous vote One quick asylum fix: How Garland can help domestic violence survivors 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 DurhamGarland stresses independence in first speech at DOJ Senate votes to confirm Garland as attorney general Special counsel investigating Russia probe to retire as US attorney 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 FeinsteinIf you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap Lawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' MORE (D-Calif.), also similarly called on Horowitz on Thursday to examine Durham’s probe and possible political interference in the 2020 election.