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DOJ cracks down on employees’ political involvement ahead of midterms

The Department of Justice seal is seen in Washington, D.C.

The Justice Department on Tuesday unveiled new restrictions preventing non-career political appointees from attending any partisan political events.

“As Department employees, we have been entrusted with the authority and responsibility to enforce the laws of the United States in a neutral and impartial manner,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a Tuesday memo. “In fulfilling this responsibility, we must do all we can to maintain public trust and ensure that politics — both in fact and appearance — does not compromise or affect the integrity of our work.”

The announcement comes just a few months ahead of the 2022 midterm elections and amid scrutiny of the department following the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home. Republicans, including the former president, have accused the department of internal political bias after the FBI executed a warrant at Mar-a-Lago as part of an investigation into the alleged mishandling of White House records.

Trump hasn’t shied away from accusing DOJ leadership of bias in the past. Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe attended campaign events for his wife, Jill, when she ran a failed campaign for Virginia state office in 2015. Trump and his allies for months attacked McCabe and accused him of bias for refusing to recuse himself from the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server after his wife had accepted a donation from a Clinton ally.

Previous DOJ policy allowed non-career political appointees to attend political events in their personal capacities as long as they participated passively and obtained prior approval. But the new restrictions make non-career political appointees subject to the same rules as DOJ’s career employees, who are prohibited from attending such events in any capacity.

Non-career appointees will now be unable to attend any partisan fundraisers or campaign events, even if they have close family members running for office. They will also not be allowed to passively attend campaign events on the evening of Election Day, which was previously permitted.

“I know you agree it is critical that we hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards to avoid even the appearance of political influence as we carry out the Department’s mission,” Garland said. “It is in that spirit that I have added these new restrictions on political activities by non-career employees.”


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