Attorney General Merrick Garland is extending a policy that mandates he sign off personally on any Department of Justice investigations of presidential candidates and their affiliates, citing “election year sensitivities.” The previously unprecedented policy was first instated in February 2020 by former AG William Barr and was largely seen at the time as a means of protecting Donald Trump.
The news broke Monday night with exclusive excerpts of the memo on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” where the host revealed that Garland first sent the memo in May 2022.
While much of the memo’s contents were standard practice, the stipulation in question reads: “No investigation (including any preliminary investigation) may be opened or initiated by the Department or any of its law enforcement agencies: 1. Of a Declared candidate for president or vice president, a presidential campaign, or a senior presidential campaign staff member or advisor absent prior (i) written notification to and consultation with the Assistant Attorney(s) General and U.S. Attorney(s) with jurisdiction over the matter and (ii) written approval of the Attorney General, through the Deputy Attorney General.”
Putting it in layman’s terms, Maddow emphasized: “In essence, nobody’s allowed to investigate anybody connected to a presidential candidate without his permission, personally, as AG.”
So what’s been happening on Capitol Hill since Garland sent out that instruction to all Department of Justice employees? Maddow posed the rhetorical to her at-home audience.
“Well, former president Donald Trump has had the delightful experience of the Jan. 6 investigation, essentially rolling out a real-time, primetime criminal referral of him to the justice department,” Maddow said, answering her own question. “And also since this memo went out, Trump has responded to all these revelations about him and Jan. 6 by reportedly moving to speed up his own declaration that he’s going to be a candidate for president again.”
Spotting a potential correlation between the two developments, Maddow indicated that the sooner Trump announces his 2024 presidential bid, the sooner he will have another barrier to criminal prosecution for his alleged actions surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Yes, it would be unorthodox for him to announce two years in advance that he’s a candidate for president. Why would he do that? Well, now we know now that we’ve obtained this Justice Department memo from a few weeks ago. Now we know for sure that it does kick something into action, if he in fact announces himself as a declared candidate for president,” Maddow said. “That means any investigation that relates to him or anyone working for him has to be personally cleared in writing through the very highest echelons of the justice department.”
Watch the full “The Rachel Maddow Show” segment in the video above.