Over the last few days, as the US media and poll watchers called the Presidential election in favour of Joe Biden, Donald Trump has repeatedly alleged foul play. He has refused to concede, and indicated his intention to have a protracted legal battle if needed. He has filed several cases, and even expressed his intention of approaching the Supreme Court.
There are also growing concerns that with no re-election bid to encumber him, the President might put massive changes in place before his term ends. This has been amplified further by the firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Others believed to be vulnerable are FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA head Gina Haspel and infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Now, with a carefully worded memo, Attorney General William Barr has authorised federal prosecutors across the US to pursue "substantial allegations" of voting irregularities before the 2020 presidential election is certified, despite little evidence of fraud. As he noted, it was "imperative that the American people can trust that our elections were conducted in such a way that the outcomes accurately reflect the will of the voters".
While officials state that this decision was not prompted by President Trump, it has raised concerns that the President will use the Justice Department to try to challenge the outcome. The investigation will allow prosecutors to circumvent longstanding Justice Department policy that normally would prohibit such overt actions before the election is formally certified.
Following the move however, reports indicate that the Justice Department's top election crimes prosecutor has resigned in protest.
While Trump shared the news update, seemingly pleased with the development, others have called it out in strong terms, criticising both the President and Barr for their actions.
"Attorney General Bill Barr is a corrupt Trump henchman who should have been impeached months ago. If he cared one shred about our democracy, he’d be focused on the peaceful transition of power instead of doing the bidding of a wannabe dictator," tweeted Democratic leader Elizabeth Warren.
Adding to the sense of uncertainty, the General Services Administration held off on formally beginning the transition, preventing Biden's teams from gaining access to federal agencies. An agency spokesperson said late Monday that an "ascertainment" on the winner of the election had not yet been made. Citing what the agency did during the extended 2000 electoral recount, it signaled that it may not do so until Trump concedes or the Electoral College meets next month. Across government, there were signs of a slowdown.
(With inputs from agencies)