DOJ eyes GOP claims of illegal votes in Nevada, Pennsylvania, as Trump refuses to concede to Biden

Key Points
  • The Department of Justice is "looking into" allegations by Republicans that there were illegal votes cast in Nevada and Pennsylvania.
  • The investigations were disclosed after Attorney General William Barr authorized federal prosecutors to probe "specific" claims of voter fraud.
  • President Trump has refused to concede the election to Joe Biden, despite major media organizations projecting the former Democratic vice president as the winner.
William Barr, U.S. attorney general, wears a protective mask while arriving at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020.
Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Department of Justice is "looking into" allegations by Republicans that illegal votes were cast in Nevada and Pennsylvania, NBC News reported Tuesday.

The investigations were disclosed after Attorney General William Barr, in a memo, authorized federal prosecutors to probe "specific" claims of voter fraud even before the election results of the race between President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden are certified.

Barr's Justice Department is eyeing GOP claims that ineligible voters cast ballots in Nevada, and that there was backdating of mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, a department source told NBC News.

After Barr's memo, issued Monday, the head of the DOJ division that prosecutes election crimes resigned, in apparent disagreement with the new policy and its ramifications. The official, Richard Pilger, will continue to work within the DOJ.

A DOJ spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

While Barr's memo authorized federal prosecutors to probe "substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities prior to the certification of elections in your jurisdictions in certain cases," he included two key qualifiers to the use of that authority.

First, the allegations of irregularities must be clear and apparently credible, he wrote.

Second, the allegations, "if true," would need to "potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual State" for a prosecutor to open an investigation before the election results were certified by the state, Barr wrote.

The attorney general also wrote that, "While serious allegations should be handled with great care, specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries."

Trump has refused to concede the election to Biden despite major media organizations, including NBC News, projected Biden as the winner of the Nov. 3 election. That call was made Saturday, after the former vice president was projected to win Pennsylvania's 20 Electoral College votes.

Here's what the economy under Biden's presidency could look like

Biden's projected win in the Keystone State and in Nevada, which has six Electoral College votes, gave him 279 votes in the Electoral College, nine more than needed to win the White House.

The Trump campaign is waging a multistate legal and procedural battle to invalidate the potentially tens of thousands of popular vote ballots in a handful of states that are giving the Democratic former vice president his margin of victory over Trump in the Electoral College. Biden is also leading in the popular vote by millions of ballots.

Biden's campaign, Democrats and many legal observers say claims by the Trump campaign that illegal votes led to Biden's victory are frivolous.

Trump has repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that he would win the race if only legal ballots were counted.

The president repeated such claims with rants on Twitter on Tuesday morning. Twitter then labeled two of those tweets with the message: "This claim about election fraud is disputed."

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., during an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday called Barr's memo "an outrageous effort."

While "there's plenty of caveats on what Barr said in terms of opening DOJ investigations," Warner said,, "clearly it didn't meet the smell test if the head of the election security division resigned."

"I've been disappointed by Attorney General Barr consistently, that he seems to be more loyal to the president than to rule of law in this country," said Warner, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"But as we've seen, every time he takes this action, both current and former DOJ officials of both parties stand up in many ways while we are treading at the outrageousness list of the Trump administration, I hope we can all eventually take a deep breath," the senator said. "Time and again, I think we've shown our institutions are strong."

- Additional reporting by Kevin Breuninger