But Barr conveniently omits the crucial fact that, for months before his endgame turnabout, he had been relentlessly parroting and amplifying Trump’s most dangerous lies about election fraud throughout the runup to the November 2020 election.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the audacity of Barr’s responses. When asked (twice) for evidence of dramatic claims he had just made, he conceded that he did not have any such support, but then decreed that his conclusory assertions were “obvious” and “common sense.” How does that work? Aren’t things that are “obvious” and “common sense” the easiest to prove? If I told you that the sun sets at the end of every day—well, that’s obvious and, hence, eminently provable. I’m trying to envision what would have happened if, back when I was a prosecutor at the Southern District of New York, I had made an important factual assertion about a case, a judge had asked me for evidence to support it, and I had replied, “No—but it’s obvious.” I’m confident it would’ve been ugly.
Indeed, DOJ’s stats don’t even list voter fraud or election fraud as a recognized category of offenses—though the statistics do list categories as narrow as Corruption—Pension Benefit, with a grand total of three cases charged during the year. Yet, in the accounting by Barr’s Justice Department of its own caseload, voter fraud doesn’t even rate its own line item, or even a mention.
Of course, we don’t know how much of the blame truly fell on the unnamed staffer and how much was owed to Barr’s own oft-displayed tendency to exaggerate in service of Trump’s public claims about voter fraud. Also: note how Barr’s errors, here and elsewhere, always went the same way—in favor of overplaying the political narrative that Trump sought to promote.
The reasons for this policy are fundamental, Prosecution 101 stuff. Public disclosure of a pending investigation undermines the secrecy and efficacy of the investigation itself. It’s a bright-line rule, firmly grounded in basic concepts of law enforcement and justice, and it’s quite easy to apply. Just don’t make a public statement about a pending investigation. Done and done.
Rather, some voters apparently had mistakenly sent in ballots using the envelopes designated for ballot requests. Election workers opened those envelopes, expecting to find ballot requests, but instead found actual filled-in ballots, which were rendered invalid under state rules. This was nowhere nearly as evil, or even intentional, as originally advertised.
The Justice Department, not surprisingly, never brought criminal charges in the Pennsylvania case that it publicly touted. It never even filed a civil action, which requires less proof than a criminal case. It never filed anything on the case at all, other than an incorrect press release that served as fodder for the baseless conspiracy theories of Trump and his enablers.
The Pennsylvania ballot announcement broke not only the long-standing Justice Department rule and practice against commenting publicly on pending investigations, but also the general prohibition on announcing political or election-related cases shortly before an election. But, as to the latter point, Barr quickly came up with an ingenious solution: just change the rules.
Barr’s endgame turnaround on the election fraud issue isn’t even a case of “too little, too late.” It’s worse than that. Barr himself used his lofty perch as attorney general to lend fuel to Trump’s desperate election fraud narrative during the crucial months leading up to the November 2020 election. He debased himself, and the Justice Department as an institution, in service of a false and politically motivated agenda that ultimately resulted in one of the darkest days in our nation’s history.