The Justice Department just announced a significant policy change that would allow prosecutors to take steps that could affect the outcome of the election

Sonam Sheth
Trump and Barr
Attorney General William Barr with President Donald Trump. REUTERS/Leah Millis
  • The Department of Justice made a significant change to a longstanding policy against election interference this week, ProPublica reported.

  • The change would allow prosecutors who suspect election-related offenses to take public investigative steps, even if those steps alter the outcome of the election.

  • In an email Friday, an official in the DOJ's Public Integrity Section specifically highlighted that the exception applied to "misconduct by federal officials or employees administering an aspect of the voting process through the United States Postal Service, the Department of Defense or any other federal department or agency."

  • The decision to single out USPS employees and military members is noteworthy, given that the president has repeatedly suggested, without evidence, that the two groups could be involved in election fraud.

  • The DOJ's decision could also put it on a collision course with the FBI and US intelligence community, whose leaders released a video this week countering Trump's claims and reassuring voters of the integrity of the election.

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The Department of Justice made a significant change to a longstanding policy against election interference that would allow prosecutors to take steps that may alter the outcome of the election, ProPublica reported Wednesday.

The noninterference policy has been in place for at least the past four decades, according to the report, and it prohibits prosecutors from taking overt steps to address election-related offenses in the run-up to an election to avoid changing the outcome of the race.

But an official in the DOJ's Public Integrity Section sent an email Friday saying that if a US attorney's office suspects postal workers or military employees engaged in election fraud, federal prosecutors can publicly take steps to investigate the matter before polls close, even if such as move affects the outcome, according to ProPublica.

The exception to the policy applies to cases where "the integrity of any component of the federal government is implicated by election offenses within the scope of the policy including but not limited to misconduct by federal officials or employees administering an aspect of the voting process through the United States Postal Service, the Department of Defense or any other federal department or agency."

President Donald Trump has repeatedly and falsely suggested that sending mail-in ballots through the US Postal Service will lead to widespread voter fraud and delegitimize the result of the election. His administration took steps to financially hobble USPS, while Trump amplified those claims. The president has also falsely suggested that ballots cast by military service members are being illegally tossed out or manipulated.

Wednesday's report came one day after ProPublica published a separate piece highlighting that the DOJ may have violated its own noninterference policy when it released two statements in September saying it was investigating "potential issues with mail-in ballots" in Pennsylvania's Luzerne county.

Initially, the department announced a "small number of military ballots were discarded" and that investigators had "recovered nine ballots at this time." It added that "all nine ballots were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump."

A second, revised statement said that "of the nine ballots that were discarded and then recovered, 7 were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump. Two of the discarded ballots had been resealed inside their appropriate envelopes by Luzerne elections staff prior to recovery by the FBI and the contents of those 2 ballots are unknown."

According to The Washington Post, Attorney General William Barr told Trump about the investigation, which the president and his allies seized on as evidence that proved his allegations about election fraud. As it turned out, the county and Pennsylvania secretary of state both confirmed that the ballots were discarded by mistake by a temporary contract worker who may have mistook them for mail-ballot applications.

Wednesday's report could also put the DOJ on a collision course with the FBI and US intelligence community, whose leaders released a video this week reassuring voters of the integrity of the electoral process and countering many of Trump's claims about election rigging.

"Next month, we will exercise one of our most cherished rights and a foundation of our democracy – the right to vote in a free and fair election," FBI Director Christopher Wray says in the video. "Some Americans will go to the polls on November 3 to cast their votes, while others will be voting by mail; in fact, some have already begun to return their ballots."

Chris Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, added: "I'm here to tell you that my confidence in the security of your vote has never been higher. That's because of an all-of-nation, unprecedented election security effort over the last several years."

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