Richard Pilger, a prosecutor at the Department of Justice (DOJ) who played a role in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeting of conservative groups, resigned his post Monday evening rather than investigate potential voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
Earlier Monday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued a memo directing prosecutors to investigate potential voter fraud. He said that prosecutors should not, however, focus on “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims.”
That was too much for Pilger, who resigned as director of the Election Crimes Branch of the department, the New York Times reported:
Mr. Pilger, a career prosecutor in the department’s Public Integrity Section who oversaw voting-fraud-related investigations, told colleagues he would move to a nonsupervisory role working on corruption prosecutions.
“Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications,” he wrote, “I must regretfully resign from my role as director of the Election Crimes Branch.” A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Mr. Pilger’s message.
Pilger felt few such qualms in 2010, when he pursued the theory that conservative groups could be prosecuted for misleading the IRS about their political activities. In an email included in a subsequent Senate report, Pilger wass described as prodding then-IRS Exempt Organizations director Lois Lerner about the idea, raised by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI):
[Pilger] wanted to know who at IRS the DOJ folks could talk to about Sen. Whitehouse [sic] idea at the hearing that DOJ could piece together false statement cases about applicants who “lied” on their 1024s–saying they weren’t planning on doing political activity, and then turning around and making large visible political expenditures. DOJ is feeling like it needs to respond, but want to talk to the right folks at IRS to see whether there are impediments from our side and what, if any damage this might do to IRS programs.
As the Wall Street Journal later noted:
Mr. Pilger was also a foot on the gas pedal during the IRS’s increased screening of conservative 501(c) groups. In 2010 he reached out to then IRS tax-exempt chief Lois Lerner about prosecuting nonprofits that engaged in political activity for making false statements on their tax returns. In an October 2010 email exchange, Ms. Lerner and Mr. Pilger discussed the transfer of data on 501(c) organizations. The Justice Department ended up with a database of 1.1 million documents, including protected taxpayer information.
Pilger’s resignation was described by the Times as a principled stand by a career official.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His newest e-book is The Trumpian Virtues: The Lessons and Legacy of Donald Trump’s Presidency. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.