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To avoid a repeat of 2016, AG Barr issues an order restricting the launch of any investigations into 2020 presidential candidates


'Three cheers for future accountability'

Michael Brochstein / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Attorney General William Barr issued an order Wednesday restricting the launch of any investigations into 2020 presidential candidates without first coming through the Department of Justice.

The new order, announced in a memo obtained by The New York Times, aims to avoid upending the presidential election, as was the case in 2016 when the FBI's inquiries into both the Trump and Clinton campaigns disrupted the election process.

What are the details?

Barr, who has been an outspoken critic of the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign, said in the memo that the Justice Department has a duty to ensure that elections are "free from improper activity or influences."

"In certain cases, the existence of a federal criminal or counterintelligence investigation, if it becomes known to the public, may have unintended effects on our elections," he wrote.

Under the new guidelines, the FBI will be required to receive a written sign-off from Barr before opening any politically sensitive investigations into presidential candidates or their senior staff or advisers.

Also, the Times notes, before FBI officials can investigate Senate or House candidates or their campaigns, they must also "notify and consult" with relevant leaders at the DOJ.

Barr's order comes after DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz's report last December found that FBI officials falsified information and made numerous significant errors in their probe into Trump's former campaign aide, Carter Page. Barr has since launched an investigation into the investigators regarding the origin of the Trump-Russia probe.

But the call for accountability should be bipartisan, as 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was also unhappy with the way the FBI handled an investigation into her alleged use of a private email server as secretary of state. The FBI reopened the investigation just days before the election, in a move that Clinton argues cost her the presidency.

'Three cheers for future accountability'

Barr previewed the policy at a news conference in January. It is the first official policy change to land in the aftermath of the 2016 Trump-Russia probe.

In an op-ed following the presser, the Wall Street Journal editorial board offered a glowing review.

"Henceforth, both an AG and the FBI director must sign off on any proposed counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign," the op-ed recounted. "Three cheers for future accountability,"

The WSJ board noted how incredible it was that "no such basic rule has existed" previously, recalling IG Horowitz's alarm over FBI policy at the time, which didn't even require that "a senior [DOJ] official be notified" about an investigation into presidential candidate.

This "loose system," they said, "made a presidential probe too easy" and enabled FBI leadership, like former director James Comey, to shrug off responsibility for the department's crucial missteps during the investigation.

This will not be the case during the 2020 election cycle, at least.

According to the Times report, the requirements outlined in the memo will remain in effect through the remainder of the current election cycle, and after that will be reviewed based on its effectiveness.

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