U.S. Attorney General William Barr has told the FBI to not begin any investigation into any 2020 presidential candidate without his expressed approval.
The directive was issued Wednesday in a memo from Barr and seeks to avoid the criticism the bureau received in an inspector general report, which reviewed the investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign and found that the FBI did not follow protocols and falsified information to initiate the probe.
“In certain cases, the existence of a federal criminal or counterintelligence investigation, if it becomes known to the public, may have unintended effects on our elections,” Barr wrote.
The memo, which was reported by several outlets, was issued on the same day that President Donald Trump was acquitted by the U.S. Senate on two articles of impeachment related to his request from Ukraine to investigate possible corruption involving former Vice President and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and a Ukrainian energy company.
Barr gave a preview of the new policy during a press conference in January.
His memo listed a series of requirements before agents could begin even preliminary criminal or counterintelligence investigations that were “politically sensitive.”
In essence, the FBI may not begin an investigation of presidential or vice presidential candidates – or their senior staff or advisers – without a written notification to the Justice Department and written approval from Barr.
Attorney General Barr prohibits investigations of candidates without his approval
“We also must be sensitive to safeguarding the department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality and nonpartisanship,” Barr wrote in the memo.
Barr has expressed doubts about the FBI’s actions in its investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign and its possible request for help from Russian officials to undermine the campaign of Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. That eventually led to the appointment of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, who did not find sufficient evidence to support the accusation.
The attorney general in May appointed a U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut to investigate any possible criminal actions on the part of government officials with regard to the Trump-Russia investigation.
Besides presidential campaigns, Barr’s memo also directed that FBI agents must notify and consult with the heads of the various departments within Justice, such as the criminal division, national security division or a regional U.S. attorney’s office, before investigating Senate or House candidates, their campaigns, or foreign nationals with regards to “illegal contributions, donations, or expenditures” to a U.S. political campaign.
Barr is not the first attorney general to express concern about the beginning of investigations during an election year, but he is the first to formalize procedures as to when and how they can start.
The FBI and Justice Department investigated both major party candidates in the 2016 election. Besides the Trump-Russia probe, prosecutors looked into Clinton’s use of a private email server to transmit classified information.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz was highly critical of the FBI and its actions in the Trump-Russia investigation, particularly with regard as to how agents obtained authority from federal courts under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to spy on Trump campaign members and associates.
“We identified multiple instances in which factual assertions relied upon in the first FISA application were inaccurate, incomplete, or unsupported by appropriate documentation, based upon information the FBI had in its possession at the time the application was filed,” Horowitz’s report said.