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Justice watchdog to probe whether officials sought to interfere with election

The Department of Justice's (DOJ) internal watchdog announced Monday that it would investigate whether any of the agency's officials "engaged in an improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome" of the 2020 election.

In a brief statement, the DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) announced that the probe would encompass current and former agency officials.  

"The investigation will encompass all relevant allegations that may arise that are within the scope of the OIG’s jurisdiction," Michael Horowitz, the department's inspector general, said in the statement. "The OIG has jurisdiction to investigate allegations concerning the conduct of former and current DOJ employees. The OIG's jurisdiction does not extend to allegations against other government officials."

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Horowitz added that his office would not be commenting further on the investigation until it is completed. A DOJ spokeswoman declined to comment on the OIG announcement.

The announcement comes days after The New York Times reported that a top DOJ official had conspired with former President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill DEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leave Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee MORE in the final days of his presidency to remove the acting attorney general in an effort to install someone who would challenge the election results in key battleground states that President Biden had won.

According to the Times, Trump was considering firing acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and replacing him with Jeffrey Clark, the acting head of the DOJ's civil division, who was seeking to cast doubt on Biden's electoral victory. The plan was reportedly aborted when other top DOJ officials made clear that they would resign if the administration went through with it.

Clark could not be immediately reached for comment. 
 
"Senior Justice Department lawyers, not uncommonly, provide legal advice to the White House as part of our duties. All my official communications were consistent with law,” he told the Times.
 
Democrats have seized on the report in recent days as they prepare to present their case against Trump in an unprecedented second impeachment trial next month.

The news comes just two days after Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate panel splits along party lines on Becerra House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade A Biden stumble on China? MORE (N.Y.) called on Horowitz to investigate the allegations in the Times article.

"Unconscionable a Trump Justice Department leader would conspire to subvert the people's will," Schumer wrote in a tweet Saturday. "The Justice Dept Inspector General must launch an investigation into this attempted sedition now."

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks National Sheriffs' Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ role Senate coronavirus bill delayed until Thursday MORE (D-Ill.), who's expected to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, responded to the Times report Monday by promising his own investigation into the allegations and demanding the DOJ turn over any records that might be relevant.

"The information revealed by this story raises deeply troubling questions regarding the Justice Department’s role in Trump’s scheme to overturn the election," Durbin and a group Senate Democrats wrote in a letter to Monty Wilkinson, the acting attorney general. "The Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct vigorous oversight of these matters. As a first step, we seek your immediate assurance that the Department will preserve all relevant materials in its possession, custody, or control."

In their letter, the Democrats drew a connection between Trump's efforts to undermine Biden's victory and the riot at the Capitol earlier this month that left five people dead.

Horowitz's office this month opened a review to "examine the role and activity of DOJ and its components in preparing for and responding to the events at the U.S. Capitol."

And according to the Times, the OIG is also investigating whether the Trump administration improperly pressured a federal prosecutor in Atlanta to pursue the then-president's unproven claims of widespread election fraud.

Byung Pak, who was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, abruptly resigned from his post on Jan. 4, and Trump replaced him with the top federal prosecutor in a neighboring district instead of allowing Pak's deputy to take over.

Trump's lawyers and allies pushed his theories in courtrooms across the country in the weeks following Election Day with no success as judges universally spurned his legal efforts to alter the outcome.

--Updated at 2:49 p.m.