(Bloomberg) — Two groups promoting ethics in government called for the impeachment of U.S. Attorney General William Barr, accusing him of violating laws and undermining public confidence in the Justice Department.
Barr has used the department to further President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, a bipartisan group of lawyers from the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington wrote in a report released Monday, three weeks ahead of U.S. elections.
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
The authors warned that Barr’s appointment of U.S. Attorney John Durham to review the origins of the Russia investigation, and Barr’s willingness to discuss the investigation in news interviews, point to efforts to create a politically orchestrated “October surprise.” Such actions could violate the Hatch Act, which forbids government officials from using their offices to support a particular candidate in an election, they wrote.
The authors, some of whom held top legal and ethics posts in previous Republican and Democratic administrations, are the latest to raise concerns that Barr is pursuing an agenda of partisan politics and selective law enforcement. Earlier this month, 1,600 former Justice Department officials signed an open letter criticizing what they called Barr’s willingness to use the department to support Trump’s re-election effort. Although the Justice Department has traditionally kept live investigations under wraps, it recently advised prosecutors they could publicize investigations into election issues, including alleged ballot fraud.
“The working group came to the reluctant conclusion that Attorney General Barr is using the powers of the Department as a vehicle for supporting the political objectives of President Donald Trump,” they wrote. “It appears that the Department has transitioned from one that is subject to law, to become one that instead views the application of law as politically discretionary; moving from rule of law to rule by law.”
The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Barr has defended the propriety of the department’s work. Although he has echoed some of Trump’s election-related allegations, he has also come under fire from the president because Durham hasn’t produced bombshell prosecutions. Durham isn’t expected to issue charges or release a report before the election, a Justice Department official has said.
The Durham investigation is one of eight areas in which Barr’s conduct appeared to contradict the presumption that the Justice Department enforces the nation’s laws fairly and without political influence, the group said. In nearly 300 pages, they spelled out actions they said violated not only the Hatch Act but also obstruction of justice laws.
They focused on areas in which Barr’s conduct sparked widespread criticism, including the way in which they said he “intentionally mischaracterized” Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report when he presented it to the American public. They looked at Barr’s assignment of several U.S. attorneys, including Durham, to conduct counter-investigations that the report says are “designed to discredit” the