November 12, 2019

Harris, Blumenthal, Whitehouse Urge Inspector General to Investigate Political Interference at DOJ

On May 3, 2019, Harris urged DOJ IG to investigate whether Barr received or acted upon requests from the White House to investigate anyone

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) on Tuesday sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz demanding a response to Senator Harris’ May letter in which she urged Horowitz to investigate whether Attorney General William Barr has received or acted upon pressure from the president or the White House to open investigations into any individuals. Recent revelations, including the transcript of the July 24 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, raise serious questions about the independence of Barr’s DOJ. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to call Inspector General Horowitz to testify in the coming month.

“On May 3, 2019, Senator Harris wrote a letter urging the Office of the Inspector General to investigate whether Attorney General William Barr received or acted upon requests or suggestions from President Trump or the White House to investigate anyone. The letter explained that an inspector general investigation was warranted after Attorney General Barr’s May 1, 2019, appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he proved unable or unwilling to state whether the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that he open an investigation of anyone,” the lawmakers wrote. “Attorney General Barr’s testimony—coupled with the president’s own alarming pattern of pressuring the Justice Department to investigate his political opponents, as documented in the special counsel’s report—prompted concerns about whether inappropriate White House requests have undermined the longstanding independence of the Justice Department.”

They continued, “These disturbing revelations, as well as the attorney general’s unwillingness or inability to be forthcoming when asked under oath about the president or White House’s involvement in Justice Department investigations, warrant the prompt attention of your office.” 

The letter can be found here and below:

November 12, 2019

The Honorable Michael E. Horowitz

Inspector General 

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20530

 

Dear Inspector General Horowitz:

On May 3, 2019, Senator Harris wrote a letter urging the Office of the Inspector General to investigate whether Attorney General William Barr received or acted upon requests or suggestions from President Trump or the White House to investigate anyone.  The letter explained that an inspector general investigation was warranted after Attorney General Barr’s May 1, 2019, appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he proved unable or unwilling to state whether the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that he open an investigation of anyone. To date, you have not responded to the letter, nor have you otherwise confirmed whether such an investigation is underway.

Attorney General Barr’s testimony—coupled with the president’s own alarming pattern of pressuring the Justice Department to investigate his political opponents,  as documented in the special counsel’s report —prompted concerns about whether inappropriate White House requests have undermined the longstanding independence of the Justice Department. Recent revelations proved such concerns to be well founded. Last month, for example, the American people learned that during a July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the president indicated that he would instruct Attorney General Barr to contact the Ukrainian leader and assist with investigations into American political figures and members of their families. 

Although the Justice Department later denied that the attorney general had knowledge of the call and said that Mr. Barr did not speak with the president about assisting with Ukrainian investigations,  such claims are belied by the president’s own public statements. In an April 25, 2019, interview with Sean Hannity, President Trump strongly suggested that Attorney General Barr would examine evidence gathered by Ukrainian officials relating to the family of one of the president’s political opponents.  It strains credulity to maintain that Attorney General Barr was unaware of the president’s desire for him to conduct such investigations—investigations that the president mentioned to a foreign head of state and spoke of openly on cable television. When later asked whether Attorney General Barr or the Justice Department had ever been directed or suggested to start, stop, or limit the scope of an investigation, FBI Director Christopher Wray was unable to provide a definitive answer. “I can’t speak to Attorney General Barr’s communications with others,” he replied. 

These episodes again raise questions about whether the Department of Justice and its leadership participate in politically motivated investigations—a practice that threatens not only the independence of the Justice Department, but of the rule of law. These disturbing revelations, as well as the attorney general’s unwillingness or inability to be forthcoming when asked under oath about the president or White House’s involvement in Justice Department investigations, warrant the prompt attention of your office. 

It is our understanding that you will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the coming month. Prior to that hearing, we request a written response acknowledging receipt of the letter and informing us whether the Office of the Inspector General has opened an investigation into whether Attorney General Barr has received or acted upon requests from the president or the White House to conduct politically motivated investigations. We also request that you be prepared to answer questions about this matter when you later appear before the Committee.

Sincerely, 

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