Attorney General William P. Barr issued an internal memorandum Wednesday instructing Justice Department and FBI employees that they must get approval from the top of the department before opening an investigation of a presidential candidate, campaign, staffer, or adviser during the 2020 election year.
The three-page memo also tells senior law enforcement officials they must consult with a senior Justice Department official or U.S. attorney before opening an investigation of a congressional candidate or their campaign.
Similarly, Barr’s instruction requires federal investigators to provide written notification to a senior Justice Department official and U.S. attorney before opening an investigation “relating to illegal contributions, donations, or expenditures by foreign nationals to a presidential or congressional campaign.”
Inside the Justice Department, that last category — the broadest of the three — could have the most widespread impact for the FBI.
The attorney general indicated at a press conference last month that he was going to adopt the rules, in the wake of an inspector general report that sharply criticized how the FBI investigated a Trump campaign adviser in 2016.
The memo underscores the degree to which the FBI and Justice Department are wary of going down the same road they did in 2016, when they had open investigations into both the Democratic and Republican campaigns during the election season. This year, Democrats have urged the department to investigate the president, while President Trump and his supporters have called for Ukraine and China to investigate Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son.