DOJ restricts contact with White House, a sharp pivot from Trump administration


Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a long-awaited directive on Wednesday restricting the Justice Department’s contact with the White House as a firewall against potential political interference.

The order, which reaffirmed some of the policies of the previous administration, marks a sharp pivot from the Trump era when the former president casually broke with institutional norms, repeatedly prompting the department to launch investigations into his political rivals. Including President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey.

“The success of the Justice Department depends on the confidence of the American people,” Garland wrote in the five-page department-wide memo. “That trust must be earned every day, and we can do so only through adherence to long-standing departmental norms of freedom from undue influence, the principled exercise of discretion, and the treatment of equitable cases.”

Garland referred to the necessary “protective measures” that have enabled communications between Justice and the White House to be “designed to protect our criminal and civil law enforcement decisions, and our legal decisions, from biased or other undue influences, whether actual or alleged, directly or indirectly.”

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The attorney general said Justice will not alert the White House to “criminal or law enforcement investigations or cases pending or pending, unless doing so is critical to the performance of the President’s duties and is appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.”

Closely tracking the language of a 2009 memorandum issued by then-Attorney General Eric Holder, Garland’s directive stated that when appropriate, communications involving criminal or civil law enforcement investigations should be communicated to the president as well as the top of justice. Will be limited to three officers, the vice president, White House counsel and deputy counsel.

On occasions when additional contacts were necessary on specific criminal or civil matters, officers involved in initial communications could designate subordinates to continue those discussions on the condition that superiors would be advised of contacts.

The guidelines also included provisions covering communications involving grant-taking decisions, matters of civil service personnel and pardoning attorneys of justice.

President-elect Joe Biden has reportedly chosen Federal Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland as his attorney general.  Seen here, then-Vice President Joe Biden greets Judge Merrick Garland after being nominated to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden at the White House on March 16, 2016 in Washington, DC.

The justice memo comes as the White House issued its own guidelines on Wednesday detailing “prohibited contact” with other parts of the government, including the Justice Department.

“Specific procedures apply to communications with the Justice Department … to ensure that the DOJ conducts its investigation and prosecution actions free of fact or undue political influence,” the White House document said. Early contact justice should be confined to the office of the White House counsel.

More broadly, the White House has made no contact with “any department or agency” regarding specific regulatory actions, licensing decisions, permitting, benefits decisions, investigations, litigation, enforcement matters, and funding decisions involving specific parties. instructed.

“If you believe such contact is necessary, the attorney’s office will determine whether such contact is permitted and if so who should be contacted,” the White House memo said.

In justice, Garland vowed during her February Senate confirmation hearing to “protect the department’s independence from partisan influence in law enforcement investigations” and to “strictly regulate communications with the White House.”

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In Wednesday’s Justice memo, Garland did not mention free-wheeling practices during the Trump administration. But on the campaign trail, Biden has often insisted that the department was co-opted by Trump and turned into “the president’s private law firm.”

A wave of accusations ran against former Attorney General William Barr, who offered an aggressive defense of Trump in the face of damaging findings outlined in the Russia investigation and repeatedly intervened in the lawsuits of aides to the president.

“I want to be clear to those who lead this department (about) who you will serve,” Biden said on Jan. 7 while introducing Garland as his candidate. “You won’t work for me. You’re not the president or vice president. The president’s lawyer. Your loyalty is not to me. It’s the law, the constitution, to the people of this country to guarantee justice.”

Garland has taken his lead from Biden, drawing parallels to the post-Watergate era, when the Justice Department faced a similar challenge to disassociate itself from the raw political interests of a president.

Accepting the nomination, Garland called for the name of Attorney General Edward Levy, nominated by President Gerald Ford, to restore the department’s credibility after the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

“As Ed Levy said in his own swearing, ‘nothing can further undermine the quality of life, or put at greater risk the attainment of the goals we all hold dear, in words and actions’. Our law is no more a means of partisan purpose than our failure to clear from it,'” Garland said.

Levy’s portrait now hangs in the attorney general’s fifth-floor conference room at the Justice Department.

When he was named, Garland said, it would be “my mission … to reaffirm the policies on which the department operates.”

In Wednesday’s memo, Garland referred to former Carter Administration Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, the author of the department’s first White House communications memo in 1979, which suggested that the guidelines were “intended to shut down the department from legitimate communication with the administration.” was not.”

“Rather, their purpose is to convey the communication to the appropriate authorities so that the communication can be adequately reviewed and considered free from the presence or reality of undue influence.”

we can probably trim

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