The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Diane Alexander,

Democracy 21 Files Complaint Against Attorney General Barr for Repeated Failures to Comply with DOJ Norms, Rules and Standards of Conduct

Complaint cites pattern of bias by Barr to protect President Trump at expense of carrying out DOJ mission to "ensure fair and impartial administration of justice."


Democracy 21 filed a complaint today with the Department of Justice requesting an investigation and remedial action against Attorney General William Barr for his repeated failures to comply with DOJ norms, rules and standards of conduct. The complaint was filed with DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility and Departmental Ethics Office.

According to the Democracy 21 complaint:

The improper actions by Attorney General Barr cover a wide range of his statements and activities but all result from a single overriding impropriety: the Attorney General has eschewed the core mission of the Department of Justice "to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans."

Attorney General Barr has instead repeatedly demonstrated bias in acting to protect the personal and political interests of President Trump, as opposed to protecting the interests of the American people. He has done this to the detriment of the country and in derogation of the mission and integrity of the Department he heads.

According to Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer:

Attorney General Barr has repeatedly abused his office to provide cover for President Trump. The Attorney General has acted in biased ways and violated Justice Department norms, standards and rules to protect President Trump at the expense of fulfilling his responsibilities to provide fair and impartial administration of justice.

Attorney General Barr has made improper attacks on the investigations of DOJ Special Counsel Mueller and DOJ Inspector General Horowitz, has made unjustified and unsubstantiated claims to protect President Trump and failed to recuse himself from the Ukraine whistleblower matter involving the President in which Barr was directly implicated by Trump.

Attorney General Barr is doing enormous damage to the integrity and credibility of the Justice Department he leads. It is the responsibility of the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Departmental Ethics Office to hold Barr accountable for his repeated improper actions.

The complaint forwarded a letter also raising concerns about Barr that was sent by the New York City Bar Association to the congressional leaders. The complaint stated:

We enclose for your information a letter sent by the New York City Bar Association to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate which expresses "serious concerns about the propriety of Barr's recent actions and statements." The letter urges Congress "to commence formal inquiries into a pattern of conduct by Attorney General William P. Barr that threatens public confidence in the fair and impartial administration of justice."

According to the Democracy 21 complaint:

As we discuss below, Attorney General Barr has directly contradicted, misrepresented or undermined the independent, non-partisan and credible work of both the Department's Inspector General and its Special Counsel, in order to blunt conclusions by these officials which were contrary to the views and interests of President Trump. He has publicly echoed the President's inflammatory rhetoric about "spying" and "collusion" without providing any adequate legal basis for using these terms. And he has refused to recuse himself from sensitive Department decisions about the handling of a whistleblower complaint alleging a gross abuse of power by President Trump and in which the Attorney General himself is directly and personally implicated.

The complaint continued:

It is the clear duty of the Attorney General always to maintain fidelity to the Constitution and to the nation's legal system, and never to abdicate these responsibilities to protect the President's personal or political interests at the expense of the impartial administration of justice.

Attorney General Barr has repeatedly failed meet this critical obligation to the American people. Therefore, as the Justice Department officials who have the responsibility to safeguard the norms, standards and rules that protect the Department's integrity and credibility, it falls to you to investigate and take appropriate remedial action to address the Attorney General's improper conduct.

According to the complaint, Attorney General Barr and U.S Attorney Durham publicly challenged and criticized the findings of the DOJ Inspector General that the Justice Department had sufficient basis to open the Russia investigation in 2016 and that the FBI and Justice Department had acted without political bias or impropriety in conducting the investigation.

The complaint stated:

Most importantly, DOJ rules prohibit Department officials from publicly commenting on open criminal investigations. These rules state that Department personnel may not "confirm the existence of or otherwise comment about ongoing investigations" and may not comment on "the nature or progress" of an "ongoing investigation." USAM SS 1-7.400 (April 2018).

In general, this provision forbids Department officials, including the Attorney General, from engaging in any discussion about active criminal investigations, except in limited, specific circumstances that are not applicable here.

The statements issued by both Attorney General Barr and U.S. Attorney Durham disagreeing with the key conclusions of the Inspector General report were clearly based on their views about the findings of the parallel criminal investigation they are conducting into the same matter that was investigated by the Inspector General. Thus, Attorney General Barr and U.S. Attorney Durham chose to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation in order to attack the findings of the Inspector General and thereby improperly provided cover for President Trump's obsessive attacks on the 2016 Russia/Trump investigation opened by the Justice Department and the FBI.

Democracy 21 believes these statements were in violation of DOJ rules prohibiting Department officials from commenting on open criminal investigations.

The complaint continued:

By publicly attacking the Inspector General report immediately upon its issuance, by specifically disagreeing with its central conclusion, and by having U.S. Attorney Durham follow with his challenge to the report, Attorney General Barr undermined his own Inspector General and attacked his own Department. Barr demonstrated his bias and fealty to President Trump, contravening the Department's mission of promoting "fair and impartial justice for all Americans," in favor of echoing President Trump's irresponsible attacks on the Justice Department itself.

The complaint then detailed the following actions Barr has taken since becoming Attorney General:

  • Barr testified before Congress, without any substantiation, that FBI and Justice Department officials engaged in "spying" on the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.
  • Barr sent a letter to Congress mischaracterizing the Mueller report ahead of its release, leaving it as the only information available to the public about the report for almost a month. Barr then refused Special Counsel Mueller's request to release the summaries included in the report and held a press conference hours before the release of the full report where he continued to mischaracterize it.
  • Barr failed to recuse himself from overseeing matters being consideration by DOJ and related to the whistleblower complaint about President Trump's call with the Ukrainian President, in which Trump mentioned Barr by name five times.

The complaint concluded:

This pattern of biased behavior by Barr is in stark conflict with his duty to ensure the "impartial administration of justice on behalf of all Americans." It is contrary to the mission, the norms, the rules, and the standards of conduct of the Justice Department and it seriously undermines the integrity and credibility of the Justice Department in the eyes of the American people.

Because you are responsible for safeguarding the institutional integrity of the Justice Department and the standards of behavior that govern its officials, Attorney General Barr's pattern of improper behavior warrants investigation and appropriate remedial action by your offices. Democracy 21 strongly calls on you to fulfill that responsibility.

Read the full complaint here.

Democracy 21 is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to making democracy work for all Americans. Democracy 21, and its education arm, Democracy 21 Education Fund, work to eliminate the undue influence of big money in American politics, prevent government corruption, empower citizens in the political process and ensure the integrity and fairness of government decisions and elections. The organization promotes campaign finance reform and other related political reforms to accomplish these goals.

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