If the FBI plans to investigate any political candidates in 2020, they will need to clear it with Attorney General William Barr first.
This week, The New York Times published a memo from the Department of Justice saying that it had responsibility to ensure that elections are "free from improper activity or influences" and instituting new guidelines saying the FBI needs Barr's approval before any investigation into "illegal contributions, donations or expenditures by foreign nationals to a presidential or congressional campaign."
The order came after the controversial investigation into onetime Trump campaign aide Carter Paige during the 2016 election, which Trump claimed was improper spying on his campaign. A report from the Department of Justice inspector general found that the FBI bungled the application for surveillance, which was filled with errors and falsified information. The report was hailed by Trump and allies as vindication of claims that they were spied on, a claim that Barr had made in speaking to Congress in the past.
As The Hill noted, Barr has been embroiled in controversy for his handling of political investigations. He was criticized for releasing a summary of the final Russia report that critics said misstated the conclusions, claiming an exoneration of Trump when the report itself outlined a number of actions that could constitute obstruction of justice.
Barr is also overseeing the federal prosecution of two associates of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani who have shared damaging details on Trump's actions to pressure Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden. The pair, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, are accused of campaign finance violations. During the impeachment trial, a lawyer for Parnas released recordings showing Trump discussing the firing of Ukrainian embassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Barr had also been publicly critical of the FBI's decision to launch the Russia investigation and had directed a top prosecutor to launch a criminal investigation into the origin of the inquiry, the New York Times reported.
Barr's memo said that the Justice Department must respond "swiftly and decisively" to any threats to the election process, but must be more careful in safeguarding the department's "reputation for fairness, neutrality and nonpartisanship." The attorney general in the past had been critical of former FBI Director James Comey's decision to discuss details of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server.The latest Justice Department memo has come under criticism, with some seeing it as a measure to protect Trump ahead of the 2020 presidential election.