Justice Department political appointees cannot participate in campaign-related activities in any capacity, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday, describing the change as necessary “to maintain public trust and ensure that politics — both in fact and appearance — does not compromise or affect the integrity of our work.”
“As Department employees, we have been entrusted with the authority and responsibility to enforce the laws of the United States in a neutral and impartial manner,” Garland wrote. “In fulfilling this responsibility, we must do all we can to maintain public trust and ensure that politics — both in fact and appearance — does not compromise or affect the integrity of our work.”
In his memo, Garland outlines how political appointees should adhere to the Hatch Act, which prohibits civil servants from running for partisan office or using their title or government resources while engaging in political activities — though most civil servants still have a First Amendment right to political expression on their own time.
“I know you agree 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. “It is in that spirit that I have added these new restrictions on political activities by non-career employees.”
Garland made the announcement just days before the Justice Department enters its traditional 60-day “blackout” period ahead of the midterms. During this time, the department typically refrains from taking public steps in politically related cases — such as executing a search warrant or indicting someone — that could be perceived as politically motivated and potentially affect the results of the election.
The blackout is not an official law or policy, though Justice officials generally try to adhere to the rule when investigating cases involving candidates, said Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a legal advocacy organization. He said the blackout also can apply to cases affecting politicians whose influence is important in upcoming elections.
“It generally would impact people who are currently on the ballot,” Bookbinder said. “Donald Trump is a sort of weirdly special case. He’s not in office, and he’s not in the moment running for office, but some people would argue that anything that happens to Donald Trump could impact the next election.”
This content was originally published here.