WASHINGTON – A 36-year-old Justice Department veteran this week accused Attorney General William P. Barr of abusing his power to transfer the election for President Trump and saying he quit, making him the third sitting prosecutor to issued a rare public reprimand to the attorney general.
“Barr’s resentment towards law-enforcement prosecutors has become increasingly difficult to ignore, as well as his strong adherence to the will of Donald Trump,” said Phillip Halpern, a federal prosecutor in San Diego, in a letter published Wednesday in The San Diego Union-Tribune. “The bureaucrat of this career seems determined to make our democracy an autocracy.”;
Mr. Halpern said he also chose to retire as well, calling Mr. Barr “an experienced bureaucrat” with no experience with the prosecutor and saying he denounced the honest apolitical and elite prosecutors who interfered in the criminal justice system help Mr. Trump’s allies.
He said he would have left early but still stayed because he was concerned that the department under Mr. Barr would interfere with his prosecution of former Representative Duncan D. Hunter, California Republican, who pleaded guilty to convicted in December of conspiracy to steal campaign funds.
The convictions of Mr. Halpern and two other prosecutors, one in Seattle and one in Boston, have broken a long-standing practice of Justice Department lawyers not to publicly discuss internal affairs.
“I have never seen sitting prosecutors take notes on concerns about the attorney general,” said Paul Butler, a Georgetown Law professor who served as a federal prosecutor during Mr. Barr’s previous tour as a lawyer. general under George Bush. “This is unprecedented.”
He said that during Mr. Barr’s first tenure as attorney general, the line prosecutors did not feel the sense of crisis they were feeling today. “Trump is the difference,” Mr. Butler said. “Barr was attorney general, but the president still saw him, and he did not force the attorney general that Trump had.”
Kerri Kupec, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, did not respond to a request for comment on the letters or to a question about whether the two prosecutors still in the department who spoke would deal with disciplinary action.
More than 110,000 people work in the Justice Department, and internal conflicts are common, as in any large organization; disputes are sometimes viewed through news reports. The department and its prosecutors have been under intense scrutiny under Mr. Trump, as he publicly criticized the prosecutors for charging his allies and saying he wanted them to put his political enemies in jail.
Mr. Butler pointed to a recent book by Andrew Weissmann, an investigative prosecutor in Russia, as an example of how the department’s rank and file standards remained relatively quiet. Mr. Weissmann’s book provides an in-depth look at some of the discussions that took place during the investigation and criticized the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, for being overly cautious.
Mr. Mueller publicly pushed some of Mr. Weissmann’s claims in a rare public statement.
“Even five years ago, that was surprising,” Mr. Butler said of the recurrence.
But he proved that the three prosecutors’ criticisms of Mr. Barr were particularly unusual. “Most people in the past feared they would be tainted or blackballed from future jobs for public criticism of the attorney general,” Mr. Butler said. “But I think the writers of this letter will suffer the consequences outside the department.”
Mr. Halpern, who has served under six presidents of the same party, said he noticed colleagues quitting and those with qualified lawyers seemed unwilling to apply to become federal prosecutors because of how Mr. Barr the department.
“I have always believed that past department heads were committed to the rule of law and to the guiding principle that justice is blind,” Mr. Halpern said. “That was a bygone era, but it should not be forgotten.”