New political restrictions set for Justice Dept. appointees

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Justice Department Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Susan Walsh, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department will no longer allow political appointees to go to fundraisers and other campaign events under restrictions handed down Tuesday that are aimed at maintaining the department's independence from politics.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, who is currently overseeing investigations including the FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s home and the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, said in a memo that the restrictions are to ensure that politics “both in fact and appearance” won't affect the way the law is enforced or how inquiries are carried out.

Appointees, hired under presidential administrations rather than making long careers at the Justice Department, have been allowed to attend political events passively on their personal time with prior approval. The new policy bans attendance altogether.

It also removes an exception that had allowed people with close family members running for office to attend political events during presidential election years, and it bars attending such events on the evening of Election Day.

“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 wrote.

On his first day in office more than a year ago, Garland vowed to prioritize the Justice Department’s political independence after the departure of Trump, who had insisted on officials' personal loyalty.

More recently, Trump and his allies have sought to cast the Aug. 9 search at Mar-a-Lago — part of an investigation into the removal of classified records — as a political weaponization of the Justice Department. A rash of online threats against federal agents followed.


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