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Opinion: Barr debunked Trump’s election-fraud lies. Will Republicans finally accept the truth?

President Trump and Atty. Gen. William Barr
President Trump has complained about a supposedly rigged election. But Atty. Gen. William Barr said Tuesday that the Justice Department hadn’t found evidence of fraud that would change the outcome.
(Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images)

It’s easy to be cynical about Atty. Gen. William Barr’s statement on Tuesday that the Justice Department has not seen “fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”

For one thing, Barr’s comment to the Associated Press was qualified by a “to date,” as if proof of massive fraud might suddenly emerge, between now and the electoral college’s vote on Dec. 14, to vindicate President Trump’s outrageous claim of a rigged election.

For another, the attorney general could have been redeeming what’s left of his professional reputation by acknowledging reality after past statements that gave aid and comfort to Trump. (Remember when Barr suggested with no evidence that foreign countries might flood the United States with counterfeit mail ballots?)

Barr has criticized Trump in the past — for tweets about Justice Department prosecutions — only to act in a way that pleased the president. Barr intervened to soften a sentencing recommendation for Trump crony Roger Stone and to recommend the dismissal of charges against former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. (Trump pardoned Flynn last week.)

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Indeed, we now know that in October Barr conferred the status of “special counsel” on John Durham, who has been looking into aspects of the 2016 investigation of the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia. That fact could lessen the sting for Trump of Barr’s latest comments.

Either way, it’s crucial that the Justice Department found no evidence of significant election fraud.

Not because it will persuade Trump or his campaign to stop spreading disinformation about the election. After Barr’s statement, Trump’s legal team issued a statement asserting (“with all due respect to the attorney general”) that “there hasn’t been any semblance of a Department of Justice investigation.” They vowed that “we will consider our pursuit of the truth through the judicial system and state legislatures,” but did not mention the obvious truth that Trump lost.

If we are lucky, others may find Barr’s statement more persuasive. Trump’s refusal to concede defeat and his trumpeting of meritless claims of election fraud have, like many of his other outrages, been amplified by far-right television news and social media platforms. These lies have inflicted serious damage on our already weakened democratic norms.

Conceivably even figures such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will belatedly acknowledge that the game is up and admit that Trump’s claim of a rigged election has not panned out. (On Tuesday McConnell did refer to “the new administration” in comments about a possible additional coronavirus stimulus bill.)

With Barr finding no evidence of significant fraud, Republican leaders can’t hide behind pious statements about the need to count every legal vote. The votes have been counted and Trump lost.


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