Bill Barr is still talking out of both sides of his mouth on the Big Lie

During an interview with Fox News, Barr claimed “people are going to be suspicious” of mail-in voting — but he told them not to trust it

Former Trump-appointed Attorney General Bill Barr has received largely favorable press coverage during his current book tour, in which he has looked back on the moment he told defeated President Donald Trump that his claims of massive election theft were false. But in a new interview Thursday with Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, Barr revealed what a mistake this positive media treatment has been.

As it turns out, Barr still supports all the usual misleading conservative talking points used to discredit mail-in voting. He just thinks Trump made a mistake in focusing on the “absurd” conspiracy theories about voting machines being rigged to change votes, “instead of focusing in and trying to get the evidence sufficient to overturn the election.”

Barr knows that the 2020 election wasn’t stolen by any mass fraud, acknowledging in his Fox interview that “there’s no evidence that that’s the case in the numbers sufficient to shift the election.” But he still insisted to MacCallum that the problem with mail-in voting is that “in a country that is as closely and intensely divided as we are,” it’s important not to make changes to the voting process in which “people are going to be suspicious of the outcome.”

MacCallum agreed that this environment of distrust was “very dangerous” because “both sides can accuse each other, or say that the election didn't matter, or it wasn’t accurate.”

Of course, only one side, Barr’s own Republican Party along with its right-wing media allies, has actually tried to convince the public that the election results in 2016 and 2020 weren’t accurate. Remember, Trump and his supporters attempted a coup rather than accept the outcome of the 2020 election — this is not a “both sides” issue.

The problem with this line of sophistry from MacCallum and Barr is that it is really just another form of the self-fulfilling arguments that Fox News itself peddled in the aftermath of the 2020 election, in which the network’s commentators attempted to justify their supposed "skepticism" about the election result on the grounds that Republican voters "feel like it was rigged." (The election was not rigged.) The reason so many Republican voters felt the results were invalid, however, was because Fox News kept telling them to feel that way.

Barr himself also did a lot of work in the run-up to the 2020 election to build that misconception. Throughout the year, he made a series of false accusations against mail-in voting, including that ballots could be manufactured in foreign countries, that bad actors could fill them out en masse, or that the secret ballot would be eliminated and voters would be subjected to coercion. Barr further sketched out a scenario that presaged the so-called "red mirage" and “blue shift” predicted by experts — in which Trump would appear to be ahead in votes cast on Election Day, before the more Democratic mail-in ballots were counted — but Barr instead claimed, “We don’t know where these freaking votes came from.” (MacCallum also defended some of Barr’s claims at the time.)

Public figures who have a major soapbox, like Barr and MacCallum, ought to have fulfilled their responsibility to explain to the public what was going on and why such accusations were false — not to keep feeding the paranoia, and then justify the accusations on the basis of the paranoia itself.

Video file

Citation From the March 10, 2022, edition of Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum

MARTHA MACCALLUM (ANCHOR): So I want to ask you a little bit about the election and January 6. And you’ve gone over the Oval Office moment where you came to a pretty dramatic discussion with President Trump, and he slammed the desk. But I do want to ask you, sort of going back before that. Because at that point, you had said you didn't see fraud in a scale that would’ve affected the outcome of the election, and that’s what really ticked him off, which you made clear. But early on, you did express a concern that mail-in voting could create an opportunity for fraud. You said, “This is playing with fire — people trying to change the rules to this, this methodology — matter of logic, very open to fraud and coercion — reckless and dangerous, people are playing with fire.” So is that something that is still of concern to you —


MACCALLUM: Especially given the fact that those rules are still out there, many of them?

BARR: No, that’s right. And you know, when I first went up for confirmation, I started this line of discussion, which is in a country that is as closely and intensely divided as we are, and where the stakes of who wins an election are very high and can mean radical shifts in policy, unfortunately, it's — the integrity of the election is critical. And anything that dilutes the protections against fraud or protects integrity is going to cast doubt on the outcome, and people are going to be suspicious of the outcome. So, whether or not you can ultimately prove fraud, diluting these things, weakening them, creates an opportunity for fraud, and will create doubt in people’s mind about the integrity — whether or not you can prove it. And that's what we're seeing today.

MACCALLUM: Very dangerous —

BARR: Very dangerous.

MACCALLUM: Because then both sides can accuse each other, or say that the election didn't matter, or it wasn’t accurate. President Trump has weighed in on this. He said — meaning you — “He then said, ‘mail-in ballots are prone to fraud,’ and then did nothing to catch the fraudsters. Barr was a ‘Bushie’ who never had the energy or competence to do the job that he was put in place to do.” That's the latest from the [former] president.

BARR: Yeah, well, the president resorts to ad hominem attacks on people if they tell him what he doesn't like to hear. By the time I left, which was one of my points, which is you only have five or six weeks to make your case for fraud. They wasted four or five weeks on these machines, which was a bogus claim, and it was just absurd, and instead of focusing in and trying to get the evidence sufficient to overturn the election.

But, I still feel that even if there was harvesting, and there probably was some harvesting — illegal harvesting — I know people are going to come in later and claim it was massive. You still have to show that people who are not qualified to vote voted, and there’s no evidence that that’s the case in the numbers sufficient to shift the election.

Also, when you actually look at the results, and I've said this a few times, there's not — to me, there's no secret why he lost. When you actually look at where the votes came from that made the difference, it was in the suburbs, and it was Republicans and independents who defected and shifted the state from one to the other. You know, he lost 60,000 — he ran weaker than the Republican ticket in Wisconsin by 60,000 votes. Think about that, a presidential candidate running behind the Republican candidates for Congress, and he got 60,000 votes less. You can't win a national election if you're running weaker than the Republican ticket.