US Attorney General William Barr gave federal prosecutors blanket authorization Monday to open investigations into voting irregularities, as President Donald Trump repeated unfounded claims he lost the presidential election due to fraud.
Barr, long a close defender of Trump, stressed that his letter to US attorneys around the country was not an indication that the Justice Department had evidence yet of genuine cases of fraud in the election won by Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
But he unleashed the prosecutors from former restrictions on such probes, just as Republicans levelled claims of illegal voting and vote counting in several states, claims that still await solid evidence.
“Given that voting in our current elections has now concluded, I authorize you to pursue substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities prior to the certification of elections in your jurisdictions in certain cases,” Barr said in the letter.
“Such inquiries and reviews may be conducted if there are clear and apparently-credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual state.”
Voting fraud investigations are normally the purview of individual states, which establish and police their own election rules.
Justice Department policy has been to hold back any federal involvement until vote tallies are certified, recounts completed and races concluded.
But Barr told the attorneys that “practice has never been a hard and fast rule,” and stressed that, if they see anything that could reverse the results of last Tuesday’s election, they should pursue it.
“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,” he wrote.
US media reported that the head of the Justice Department’s Election Crimes Branch, which oversees investigations into voter fraud, resigned following Barr’s order.
The branch director, Richard Pilger, reportedly handed in his resignation within hours of Barr’s authorization.
In an email to colleagues about Barr’s order, Pilger said, “Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications… I must regretfully resign from my role,” The New York Times reported.
Barr’s order came as Trump battles to reverse Biden’s narrow wins in several key states — Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia and Arizona — that gave Barack Obama’s former vice president enough electoral votes to win the overall presidential election.
The Trump campaign and the Republican party have filed or threatened lawsuits in several of the states, hoping to change the outcome with ballot disqualifications and recounts.
But so far, their actions have gone nowhere, and state officials have challenged them to provide proof of allegations.
Trump had reportedly pressured Barr to get involved on his behalf even weeks before the election.
But the attorney general had disappeared from public view for several weeks, until Monday when he was seen meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Four states yet to be called after US presidential election
Joe Biden is already projected to win the US presidential election, according to major US media. But all outlets have yet to project a final winner in four US states, as of Monday: Alaska, Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina.
Biden needs at least 270 votes in the Electoral College, which ultimately decides the presidency. Those 538 votes are apportioned among the states and chosen in individual state contests on Election Day, usually on a winner-take-all basis.
Biden currently has at least 279 electoral votes. Republican incumbent President Donald Trump has only 214 – even if he wins all four remaining states, he cannot reach 270.
– Arizona (11 electoral votes) –
Biden has received 49.5 per cent of the vote, compared to 49 per cent for Donald Trump – a narrow margin of 16,985 votes, with 98 per cent of ballots counted.
Fox News and the Associated Press called the race in the western state in the Democrat’s favour on Election Night, triggering Trump’s wrath.
Other media, such as The New York Times and CNN, have so far refrained from declaring a winner in Arizona, a traditionally Republican bastion.
– Georgia (16) –
More than 98 per cent of the votes have been counted in this southeastern state, which has consistently voted Republican since 1996.
Trump’s initial lead dissipated as mail-in votes were counted in major urban areas such as Atlanta, and Biden has overtaken him.
The Democrat currently has a lead of more than 10,350 votes, according to state election data.
– North Carolina (15) –
Some 98 per cent of the votes have been counted in this traditionally Republican southeastern state.
At the moment, Trump is ahead of Biden by about 75,000 votes, with a total of about 50 per cent of the vote versus his rival’s 48.6 per cent.
– Alaska (3) –
Only 56 per cent of the votes have been counted in Alaska, due to the complicated logistics of collecting ballots in the vast state, and cross-referencing absentee ballots to ensure no one voted twice.
Trump leads with 62.9 per cent of the count so far. No Democrat has won in Alaska for decades.
– 306 electoral votes? –
If Biden wins Arizona and Georgia, as some projections suggest, he will have 306 of the 538 electors — the same number that propelled Trump to victory in what the president has called a “landslide” over Hillary Clinton in 2016.