on Wednesday restated guidelines limiting contacts between the White House and the Justice Department about its investigations, underscoring Mr. Garland’s priority for reversing what critics of the Trump White House viewed as its inappropriate political influence on some of the Justice Department’s actions.
In a memo addressed to all department personnel, Mr. Garland said the Justice Department “will not advise the White House concerning pending or contemplated criminal or civil law enforcement investigations or cases unless doing so is important for the performance of the President’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.”
The memo said those limits—which it said didn’t apply to matters of national security or foreign relations—were necessary to “promote and protect the norms of Departmental independence and integrity.”
That language closely tracked a 2009 memo issued by then-Attorney General
which remained in effect throughout the Trump presidency, according to a former Justice Department official. But Mr. Trump’s repeated public comments and criticism about pending criminal investigations and cases involving his allies—some of which the Justice Department appeared to heed—led
to stress restoring independence to the department in his successful campaign for the presidency.
A national-security official during the Trump administration, for example, said White House lawyers were involved to an unusual degree in the 2020 process to review a manuscript from Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser,
who became a Trump critic. The official said the lawyers withheld information and conducted a flawed second review in what she said appeared to be an effort to justify a Justice Department lawsuit against Mr. Bolton. The Justice Department in the Biden administration dropped that lawsuit last month.
In February, the department also moved to dismiss a lawsuit seeking the proceeds of a tell-all book written by a onetime friend and aide to former first lady Melania Trump, saying it was in the government’s best interest to do so.
Mr. Trump’s attorney general,
has said his decisions in investigations weren’t influenced by the White House. In December, he said the Justice Department hadn’t found evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election that would reverse Mr. Biden’s victory, a decision that angered Mr. Trump and led to Mr. Barr’s resignation days later.
The memo also comes as the department is pursuing a criminal tax investigation into Mr. Biden’s son Hunter.
At his confirmation hearing earlier this year, Mr. Garland signaled his focus on independence from the White House in investigative decisions.
“I do not plan to be interfered with by anyone. I expect the Justice Department will make its own decisions,” Mr. Garland said in response to questions from Democrats who criticized Mr. Trump for what they viewed as his efforts to insert himself into the Justice Department’s traditionally independent affairs, adding: “I would not have taken this job if I thought that politics would have any influence over prosecutions and investigations.”
The new memo includes new details on how the policy works, including its relations to procurement and grant-making.
The White House issued a related memo on Wednesday, telling White House staff not to contact any department or agency about any specific investigations unless approved by the White House Counsel’s Office.
—Sadie Gurman contributed to this article.
Write to Aruna Viswanatha at Aruna.Viswanatha@wsj.com
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