WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General William Barr acknowledged Tuesday that the Justice Department has uncovered no voting fraud “on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” a striking repudiation of President Donald Trump’s groundless claims that he was defrauded.
The statement from Barr affirming Joe Biden’s win served as a particularly harsh blow to Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the election. Barr has advanced Trump’s political agenda perhaps more than any other Cabinet member, bringing the Justice Department as close to the White House as it has been since Watergate.
His comments came as other Republicans separated themselves Tuesday from Trump’s charged complaints about the election. A Georgia elections official angrily denounced the violent threats and harassment directed at elections workers and urged the president to “stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.”
“Someone’s going to get hurt,” the official, Gabriel Sterling, said at a news conference. “Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed.”
And Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, who has refused to recognize Trump’s election loss, moved closer to overtly accepting the reality that Biden would be in the White House next year as he discussed the prospects for more pandemic stimulus in 2021.
“After the first of the year, there is likely to be a discussion about some additional package of some size next year, depending upon what the new administration wants to pursue,” McConnell said on Capitol Hill.
Barr had been mostly silent since the election, but some Republicans privately pushed him to publicly rebut Trump, according to a person told of those conversations. His comments may have been prompted by Trump’s increasingly specious election claims; the president suggested Sunday that the Justice Department and the FBI may have played a role in an election fraud.
Barr took particular aim at a widely discredited conspiracy theory promoted by the president’s legal team involving machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems, a company that sells voting hardware.
“There’s been one assertion that would be systemic fraud, and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results. And the DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that,” Barr said, referring to the Department of Homeland Security and his own department.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Barr discussed his findings on voter fraud with the White House before he made his public comments Tuesday.
Barr’s acknowledgment of the election results was an about-face from his posture during the campaign. But he spoke out only after the president spent weeks promoting baseless assertions about the election outcome and long after department lawyers assigned to monitor elections for signs of fraud told Barr that they had found no evidence of substantial irregularities.
And even as Barr distanced himself from the president’s election claims, the Justice Department also announced a move certain to please Trump: Barr has given additional protections to John H. Durham, the federal prosecutor whose examination of the Russia investigation Trump had embraced. The move makes it more difficult for the Biden administration to fire Durham without providing evidence of misconduct.
The president’s allies immediately pushed back on Barr’s election assessment. Trump campaign lawyers complained that the Justice Department investigations had been anemic.
Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for Trump who has been at the forefront of promoting his election conspiracy theories, said that his team had gathered evidence of illegal voting in six states, backed up by sworn witness statements, and that the Justice Department had failed to investigate what the team had uncovered.
“As far as we know, not a single one has been interviewed by the DOJ,” Giuliani said in a statement. “The Justice Department also hasn’t audited any voting machines or used their subpoena powers to determine the truth.”
Barr had given prosecutors the authority to examine allegations by Trump’s allies of voter ineligibility in Nevada and improperly dated mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania. The results of those investigations have not been publicly disclosed, but Barr’s remarks suggested that any impropriety was too insignificant to change the election results.
“Most claims of fraud are very particularized to a particular set of circumstances or actors or conduct. They are not systemic allegations, and those have been run down; they are being run down,” he said. “Some have been broad and potentially cover a few thousand votes. They have been followed up on.”
The Trump campaign and its surrogates have filed dozens of lawsuits in battleground states that have offered an array of attacks on the election results: arguing that mail-in ballots were illegally used, that absentee ballots were improperly counted and that poll challengers were denied proper access to monitor vote counts.
Some of the lawsuits have echoed Giuliani’s talk of conspiracies that foreign powers like Venezuela worked with corrupt American officials to manipulate voting machines. Others made much smaller claims, contesting the validity of tiny batches of as few as 60 ballots.
But none, at least so far, have won Trump anything more significant than the ability to move his poll observers from 10 feet to 6 feet away from workers counting votes in Pennsylvania. The campaign and its allies have now lost nearly 40 cases across the country as judge after judge — including some appointed by Trump — discredited the efforts as lacking both legal merit and convincing proof.
Barr also suggested that lawsuits or audits by election officials served as remedies for suspicions of election irregularities, not criminal inquiries. “There’s a growing tendency to use the criminal justice system as sort of a default fix-all, and people don’t like something, they want the Department of Justice to come in and ‘investigate,’” Barr said in the Associated Press interview.
Barr has potentially placed himself in a precarious position with Trump, who recently fired Christopher Krebs, the senior cybersecurity official responsible for securing the presidential election, who prominently disputed Trump’s false claims that the presidency was stolen.
“I guess he is the next one to be fired since he now, too, says there is no fraud,” Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Senate Democrat, said of Barr. The attorney general traveled to the White House on Tuesday afternoon, prompting speculation about his future, but he was there to attend a previously scheduled meeting, a spokeswoman said.
In the months before the November election, Barr had been one of the loudest voices sounding alarms about widespread fraud, claiming repeatedly in speeches and interviews that the potential for it was high and that it posed a grave danger to the election. Barr’s claims were often false or exaggerated and were widely refuted.
Predicting in September that mail-in voting would lead to unprecedented voter fraud, he called his assertion “common sense.”
“I don’t have empirical evidence other than the fact that we’ve always had voting fraud,” Barr said at the time. “And there always will be people who attempt to do that.”
His comments unnerved Democrats and voting rights advocates as he simultaneously relaxed Justice Department guidelines that discouraged prosecutors from taking investigative steps around an election that could become public and undermine Americans’ confidence in the results.
In the weeks before the election, the Justice Department also made the highly unusual move of releasing details about voter fraud investigations, which fed Trump’s narrative warning of voting irregularities in an effort to erode voters’ faith in the outcome of the race.