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DOJ election crimes chief resigns after Barr authorizes voter fraud investigations

Attorney General William P. Barr and FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich discuss the results of the investigation into the shooting that occurred on December 6, 2019, at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Jan. 13, 2020. (U.S. Department of Justice photo/Released)
November 10, 2020

The Department of Justice (DOJ) official who oversaw election investigations resigned Monday within hours of Attorney General William Barr authorizing U.S. attorneys to investigate allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Richard Pilger, the director of the Elections Crimes Branch in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, announced his resignation in an email to colleagues Monday, as CNN reported. Pilger said Barr had issued “an important new policy abrogating the forty-year-old Non-Interference Policy for ballot fraud investigations in the period prior to elections becoming certified and uncontested.”

Barr’s investigation order comes after President Donald Trump has raised a number of election lawsuits and claims of voter fraud. While several outlets called the election for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, Trump has not conceded the race.

NBC reported that past DOJ guidance advised prosecutors that “overt investigative steps ordinarily should not be taken until the election in question has been concluded, its results certified, and all recounts and election contests concluded.”

NBC reported Pilger, in his resignation letter, wrote, “Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications, and in accord with the best tradition of the John C. Keeney Award for Exceptional Integrity and Professionalism (my most cherished Departmental recognition), I must regretfully resign from my role as Director of the Election Crimes Branch.”

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In his resignation letter, Pilger added, “I have enjoyed very much working with you for over a decade to aggressively and diligently enforce federal criminal election law, policy, and practice without partisan fear or favor. I thank you for your support in that effort.”

Pilger has served as director of the Election Crimes Branch of the DOJ since 2010.

In Barr’s memo to prosecutors, he said, “While it is imperative that credible allegations be addressed in a timely and effective manner, it is equally imperative that Department personnel exercise appropriate caution and maintain the Department’s absolute commitment to fairness, neutrality and non-partisanship.”

In his letter, Barr noted yearslong concerns about mail-in voting, which was widely used during the 2020 election, amid the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“A bipartisan commission chaired by Jimmy Carter and James Baker said back in 2009 that mail-in voting is fraught with the risk of fraud and coercion,” Barr wrote.

Bob Bauer, Biden’s campaign attorney, said in a statement that Barr’s actions were “deeply unfortunate” and would only fuel the “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims he professes to guard against.”

“Those are the very kind of claims that the president and his lawyers are making unsuccessfully every day, as their lawsuits are laughed out of one court after another,” Bauer said. “But, in the end, American democracy is stronger than any clumsy and cynical partisan political scheme.”