The head of the branch of the Justice Department that prosecutes election crimes resigned Monday hours after Attorney General William Barr issued a memo to federal prosecutors to investigate “specific allegations” of voter fraud before the results of the presidential race are certified.
Richard Pilger, who was director of the Election Crimes Branch of the DOJ, sent a memo to colleagues that suggested his resignation was linked to Barr’s memo, which was issued as the president’s legal team mount baseless legal challenges to the election results, alleging widespread voter fraud cost him the race.
“Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications, and in accord with the best tradition of the John C. Keeney Award for Exceptional Integrity and Professionalism (my most cherished Departmental recognition), I must regretfully resign from my role as Director of the Election Crimes Branch,” Pilger’s letter said, according to a copy obtained by NBC News.
“I have enjoyed very much working with you for over a decade to aggressively and diligently enforce federal criminal election law, policy, and practice without partisan fear or favor. I thank you for your support in that effort.”
Barr on Monday issued a memo authorizing prosecutors “to pursue substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities prior to the certification of elections.”
That’s a change of Justice Department policy, which had previously advised prosecutors that “overt investigative steps ordinarily should not be taken until the election in question has been concluded, its results certified, and all recounts and election contests concluded.”
Barr, who’s come under fire by right-wing media for not bolstering the president’s evidence-free claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, declared that guidance outdated.
“Such a passive and delayed enforcement approach can result in situations in which election misconduct cannot realistically be rectified,” Barr said in the memo.
NBC News and several other major media outlets projected Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 presidential election on Saturday after several states spent days counting ballots following a record turnout, including mail-in and absentee voting. Trump has refused to concede to President-elect Biden and one of his appointees in the General Services Administration has yet to sign paperwork to begin the presidential transition.
Barr was not asked or directed by the president, any lawmaker, or anyone in the White House to issue this memo to federal prosecutors, according to a Department of Justice senior official. Barr, however, met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., earlier Monday. McConnell defended the president earlier Monday on the Senate floor, arguing he has a right to pursue recounts and lawsuits in court.
Barr did not respond to questions when he left McConnell’s office and a DOJ spokesperson has declined to comment on what the two men discussed.
A DOJ official told NBC News that the memo from Barr does not allege that there are substantial irregularities in the election. It authorizes local U.S. attorneys to investigate if they learn “clear and apparently-credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual State.”
It added, “While serious allegations should be handled with great care, specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries. Nothing here should be taken as an indication that the Department has concluded that voting irregularities have impacted the outcome of any election.”