Oct. 1, 2019 – Democracy 21 filed a complaint today with Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz calling on the IG to investigate Attorney General William Barr’s activities relating to the recent whistleblower complaint concerning President Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The Democracy 21 complaint to the Inspector General requested an investigation of any activities by Attorney General Barr relating to the Justice Department’s handling of the whistleblower complaint in which Attorney General Barr himself was named, and whether the Attorney General improperly failed to immediately recuse himself from the matter. The complaint also requested an investigation of any activities by Attorney General Barr relating to President Trump’s July 25, 2019 phone call with President Zelensky.
According to Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer:
President Trump urged Ukrainian President Zelensky to work with Attorney General Barr as part of Trump’s grossly improper efforts to pressure the leader of a foreign country to intervene in a U.S election for Trump’s personal political benefit.
Under Justice Department regulations, Attorney General Barr should have immediately and formally recused himself from any role or involvement in the Department’s handling of the whistleblower complaint, since the whistleblower complaint states that President Trump repeatedly referred to Barr as a participant in his nefarious scheme.
The Inspector General has the duty to investigate whether the Attorney General failed to recuse himself from any involvement in the whistleblower complaint in which he was named and whether the Attorney General engaged in any improper conduct regarding the whistleblower complaint and the Ukraine scandal. The Inspector General is the only person in the Executive Branch who can hold Attorney General Barr accountable for any improper conduct, other than President Trump, who considers Barr to be his personal attorney and partisan advocate.
According to Democracy 21’s complaint:
Attorney General William Barr is prominently named in the complaint filed by a whistleblower alleging that President Trump, working with others, solicited and sought to pressure the government of Ukraine into intervening in the 2020 presidential election by providing derogatory information about former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential Democratic Party presidential nominee in the 2020 election in which President Trump is running for reelection.
The second paragraph of the whistleblower complaint states that “the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” The complaint then says, “Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well.”
The complaint continued:
Both the whistleblower complaint and the White House report describing the Zelensky call contain multiple references to statements by President Trump saying that he is involving Attorney General Barr in his efforts to press a foreign country to investigate his political opponent. For that reason, the allegations in the complaint directly implicate the institutional integrity of the Justice Department and raise the question of whether the Attorney General, named by the President as a participant in this matter, has failed to carry out the mission of the Justice Department “to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”
Accordingly, Democracy 21 calls on you to promptly conduct an investigation to determine what role Attorney General William Barr played in President Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 presidential election by gathering derogatory information on President Trump’s potential opponent in that election.
The complaint requested that the Inspector General examine the following issues:
- Whether and to what extent Attorney General Barr has discussed with President Trump, his attorney Rudy Giuliani or with any other White House, Justice Department or Trump campaign official the subject of encouraging, soliciting or pressuring the government of Ukraine to investigate and provide derogatory information about Vice President Biden or his family.
- Whether Attorney General Barr has had any contact, in person, by telephone or by other means, with any official or agent of the government of Ukraine about an investigation of Vice President Biden or his family.
- Whether Attorney General Barr or the Justice Department has conducted or is conducting any investigation of Vice President Biden or his family, and whether Attorney General Barr has discussed with President Trump, with his attorney Rudy Giuliani or with any other White House or Trump campaign official, or with any officer or employee of the Justice Department, the subject of having the Justice Department open and/or conduct an investigation of Vice President Biden or his family.
- When and under what circumstances Attorney General Barr learned of the existence of the whistleblower complaint about President Trump’s efforts to solicit Ukraine to provide derogatory information about Vice President Biden or his family, and whether Attorney General Barr should have formally recused himself from any Departmental consideration of or decisions about the complaint upon learning that he is named in the complaint.
- Whether and to what extent Attorney General Barr or the office of the Attorney General was involved in the Department’s discussions or decision-making process regarding the whistleblower complaint, including whether the complaint should have been transmitted to Congress by the Acting Director of National Intelligence.
- Whether and to what extent Attorney General Barr or the office of the Attorney General was involved in the Department’s discussions or decision-making process regarding the issue of whether efforts by President Trump and others to solicit or pressure the government of Ukraine to provide derogatory information about Vice President Biden or his family constituted a violation of the federal campaign finance laws.
According to the complaint:
According to the official White House account, President Trump specifically mentioned Attorney General Barr five times during that call (emphases added):
- “I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.”
- “I will ask him [Giuliani] to call you along with the Attorney General.”
- “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.”
- “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.”
- “I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call. . . .”
These quotes—from the official White House memorandum on the July 25 call—by themselves raise a host of questions that require investigation about the role that Attorney General Barr may have played in President Trump’s efforts to use a foreign government to obtain derogatory information about a political opponent. Your office should determine whether the President, the White House or any agent of the President or White House at any time communicated to the Attorney General any instruction or suggestion that the Attorney General call President Zelensky or his “people” about investigating Vice President Biden.
The complaint said:
The investigation also should determine whether the Attorney General has authorized or participated in any investigation of Vice President Biden or his son, Hunter Biden; whether President Trump or his agents requested or instructed the Attorney General or the Department to undertake any such investigation as well as whether any such investigation either was conducted or is currently being conducted, and if so, whether there are legitimate grounds for the Department to investigate a leading potential opponent of President Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
Your investigation should also determine whether Attorney General Barr complied with Justice Department recusal requirements by immediately and formally recusing himself from any discussions and decisions regarding the whistleblower complaint. 28 C.F.R. § 45.2, see also 25 C.F.R. § 2635.502. Because the complaint states that Attorney General Barr “appears to be involved” in the allegations made in the complaint, the Attorney General’s participation in or oversight of the Department’s handling of the complaint would, at a minimum, “create an appearance of a conflict of interest likely to affect the public perception of the integrity of the investigation or prosecution.” 28 C.F.R. § 45.2(b)(2).
The complaint continued:
While in the normal case there should be a presumption of regularity given to decisions made by the Department, this is not a normal case. Here, as set forth multiple times in the White House summary of the Zelensky call, President Trump names Attorney General Barr as a participant in the activities that form the substance of the whistleblower complaint. The naming of the Attorney General in the allegations of the complaint overcomes any presumption of regularity for decisions about the complaint that were made by either the Attorney General or by his subordinates in the Department. It requires that there be an investigation of those decisions, especially where those decisions initially had the effect of blocking the transmittal of the complaint to Congress by the Acting DNI, and then terminating any investigation into the complaint by the Justice Department.
Accordingly, we believe it is essential that you investigate the process followed by the OLC in issuing its ruling that the complaint did not constitute an “urgent matter” under the whistleblower statute. We also urge you to investigate the process followed by the Criminal Division in concluding that the complaint did not present any violation of federal law that required a full investigation by the Department.
The complaint concluded:
As noted earlier, a core mission of the Department of Justice is “to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.” President Trump’s repeated statements to a foreign leader that he will have Attorney General Barr work directly with that leader to obtain derogatory information about a U.S. presidential candidate implicates the Attorney General in a gross abuse of power by the President. It also casts public doubt on the institutional integrity and fairness of the Department itself with regard to the Department’s decisions about the handling of the whistleblower complaint, and decisions with regard to the criminal referral made to the Justice Department in this matter.
Democracy 21 calls on you to promptly investigate the matters raised in our complaint and to determine whether the Attorney General engaged in improper conduct in the actions he took (or failed to take) regarding President Trump’s efforts to have a foreign country interfere in the 2020 presidential election for the President’s personal political benefit, at the expense of the integrity of our elections and the national security of our country.
Read the full complaint here.