What the DOJ Memo really means for investigating Trump

If there’s a powerful Democrat who has given his party as much heartburn as Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), it might well be Attorney General Merrick Garland. A party base anxious for Jan. 6, 2021-related criminal charges against former president Donald Trump has long been suspicious of the moderate attorney general. And the limited peeks they’ve gotten behind the Justice Department curtain have often left them wholly unsatisfied, at best, and suspicious of Garland’s fortitude, at worst.WaPo

When Barr issued that February 2020 memo (on the same day the Senate acquitted Trump following his firstimpeachment), it was news. Why? Because, as the Times reported at the time, Barr was “the first to require that the F.B.I consult with the Justice Department before opening politically charged investigations.” The memo also specifically mandated that no investigation of a “declared candidate for president or vice president” should be initiated without the “prior written approval” of the attorney general.

As Garland’s memo says on its face and as Rachel recited last night, it exists “to remind [DOJ employees] of the department’s existing policies with respect to political activities.” And in large part, as MSNBC legal analyst Chuck Rosenberg and attorney Michelle Onibokun wrote shortly before the 2020 election, such a memo is typically issued by the attorney general every four years and has “remained remarkably similar across administrations” with “virtually similar guidance” issued in 2008, 2012 and 2016. Barr himself issued an election year sensitivities memo in May 2020 that largely echoes his predecessors’ versions.” (Lisa Rubin, Maddow Blog)

One of the reasons the Garland memo has led to such strong reactions is that Trump happens to be sending increasing signals that he’ll launch his 2024 presidential campaign very early, possibly even before the midterm elections. The thinking is apparently that Trump is doing this because he might see some legal advantage in being a formally declared candidate. That’s an advantage allegedly driven home by Garland’s memo, which places investigating such a candidate in a special class, requiring sign-off from the highest levels.

Some Trump critics will fear that an allegedly reluctant Garland might use this policy as an excuse to stifle such an investigation. But Garland will have to contend with extensive public evidence from the congressional Jan. 6 investigation and the Justice Department’s own investigations of related matters that would certainly make that difficult to justify.

Garland’s top deputy, Lisa Monaco, was asked Tuesday whether Trump getting into the race would have any impact on the investigation, and she suggested it wouldn’t.

More at MSNBC and Washington Post

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