Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday announced a significant update to the Department of Justice’s policies regarding bans on political involvement amid allegations of bias at the agency.
“Although longstanding Department policy has permitted non-career appointees to attend partisan political events, e.g., fundraisers and campaign events, in their personal capacities if they participated passively and obtained prior approval, under the new policy, non-career appointees may not participate in any partisan political event in any capacity,” Garland said in a memo (pdf).
The attorney general did not make any references to any specific Department of Justice (DOJ) employees or incidents.
Garland said previous DOJ policies had “allowed non-career employees to passively attend campaign events and other partisan political events in their personal capacities on the evening of Election Day.”
“In the past, when the Department has further limited attendance at partisan political events during Presidential election years, it has allowed an exception for non-career appointees who had close family members who were running for partisan offices, or similar situations,” Garland said. “The new policy permits no exceptions.”
But now, he declared, “non-career appointees may not attend partisan political events, even on the evening of Election Day.”
His letter comes as it was reported that a top-level FBI special agent resigned in recent days following whistleblower complaints that were documented by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). In a statement from Grassley Tuesday, he accused the now-departed FBI agent, Timothy Thibault, of having a political bias against former President Donald Trump.
Republicans and Trump also are accusing the DOJ and FBI of carrying out a politicized raid on his Mar-a-Lago home earlier this month in a bid to sway voters away from Republicans and Trump-backed candidates ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. They’ve also said the DOJ has displayed a double standard in how it handles Trump and cases involving Hunter Biden and its inquiry into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of an email server.
Other than Thibault, former top FBI official Peter Strzok—who opened the infamous Crossfire Hurricane investigation—was fired by the bureau in 2018 for exchanging texts with FBI lawyer Lisa Page, including ones before the 2016 election that criticized Trump and his supporters while discussing plants to prevent him from becoming president.
Also Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General for Administration Jolene Lauria issued a memo to DOJ employees saying that its members previously faced restrictions by other attorneys general.
Political appointees at the DOJ cannot “engage in partisan political activity” or “use their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election,” Lauria wrote.
“Department officials must be vigilant to prevent the appearance that any of our official duties are an effort to influence the outcome of an election,” the memo said. “Attendance at an official event, which includes a speech, grant announcement, or appearance with a candidate for partisan office, shortly before a primary or general election may be construed as partisan.”
Garland, in making reference to Lauria’s letter to employees, said that the move is an attempt to “maintain public trust and ensure that politics … does not compromise or affect the integrity of our work.”
Several top GOP lawmakers have said the FBI targeting of Trump will further undermine Americans’ trust in the federal law enforcement agency.