Politico

Watchdog to probe election-related intrigue at Justice Department


The Justice Department’s internal watchdog announced Monday that it has launched an investigation into whether top officials at the department engaged in any impropriety in connection with challenges to the results of last year’s presidential race.

A statement from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said his office is “initiating an investigation into whether any former or current DOJ official engaged in an improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election.”

Horowitz signaled a broad potential scope for the inquiry, saying, “The investigation will encompass all relevant allegations that may arise that are within the scope of the OIG’s jurisdiction.”

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that the Department of Justice’s inspector general would examine the abrupt resignation the U.S. attorney in Atlanta, Byung J. “BJay” Pak, following the release of a recorded telephone conference call in which President Donald Trump appeared to dismiss Pak as a “never-Trumper.” A person briefed about that inquiry confirmed its existence to POLITICO.

The new announcement appears to confirm that the Justice Department plans a broader official inquiry into reports in recent days that the agency’s most senior appointees were roiled in their final days in office by an attempt by Trump to team up with the acting head of the Civil Division, Jeffrey Clark, to have the department urge Georgia legislators to block that state’s certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win there.

The move, first reported Friday by The New York Times, led the entire top echelon of the department and many of their aides to threaten to resign en masse. Trump reportedly eventually abandoned the plan, which at one point may have required that Trump fire then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and replace him with Clark.

While the announcement signals that a thorough investigation of the allegations will be undertaken, it is unlikely to be quick. Major inspector general investigations at the Justice Department typically take a year or more to complete.

Horowitz also noted in his statement that he has no jurisdiction to investigate actions taken by officials outside the Justice Department. He also lacks subpoena power, so he can’t force testimony from former Justice officials.

Members of Congress have also indicated interest in pursuing the allegations, but it remains unclear whether they will figure prominently in an impeachment trial Trump is scheduled to face in the Senate in roughly two weeks.

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