He’s gonna make a hell of a witness against Trump at the impeachment trial.
The good news for MAGA, though, is that they have a ready line of attack if/when he takes his seat in the witness box. Namely, didn’t Bill Barr himself do plenty of preemptive election-questioning this fall, spooking Americans about mail ballots and falsely suggesting that people who voted that way might not be able to keep their vote a secret?
The time to worry about “stop the steal” propaganda “precipitating” violence was when he seized the opportunity to chip in a little propaganda towards that effort himself, not 13 days after a cop was murdered by fanatic believers. Watch, then read on.
It’s not that interview that makes me think he’d be a tough witness for Trump before the Senate, even though he strongly hints in the clip that he thinks the president is morally if not legally culpable for what happened at the Capitol. It’s this report from Axios published a few days ago. Barr reportedly warned Trump privately many weeks ago that the “stop the steal” allegations were BS. Trump wouldn’t listen.
“These things aren’t panning out,” Barr told the president, standing beside his chief of staff Will Levi. “The stuff that these people are filling your ear with just isn’t true.” Barr explained that if Trump wanted to contest the election results, the president’s internal campaign lawyers would have to do it.
The Justice Department, he continued, had looked at the major fraud allegations that Trump’s lawyers had leveled. “It’s just bullsh*t,” Barr told the president. Cipollone backed up Barr by saying the DOJ was investigating these claims.
Trump pointed at the TV and asked if Barr had been watching the hearing. Barr said he hadn’t. “Maybe you should,” the president said. Barr reiterated that the Justice Department was not ignoring the allegations, but that Trump’s outside lawyers were doing a terrible job.
“I’m a pretty informed legal observer and I can’t f***ing figure out what the theory is here,” he added. “It’s just scattershot. It’s all over the hill and gone.”
That was December 1. Imagine Barr testifying before the Senate that for more than a month after that meeting, Trump ignored the fact that the head of the Justice Department had informed him personally that there was nothing to the “stop the steal” conspiracy and persisted in it anyway, culminating in the attack on January 6. Why did he ask a crowd to gather in Washington that day if he had reason to know that he hadn’t been a victim of election fraud after all?
In fact, other witnesses told Axios that Trump was plotting a “stop the steal” excuse to contest the election long before Americans were done voting:
As Trump prepared for Election Day, he was focused on the so-called red mirage. This was the idea that early vote counts would look better for Republicans than the final tallies because Democrats feared COVID-19 more and would disproportionately cast absentee votes that would take longer to count. Trump intended to exploit this — to weaponize it for his vast base of followers.
His preparations were deliberate, strategic and deeply cynical. Trump wanted Americans to believe a falsehood that there were two elections — a legitimate election composed of in-person voting, and a separate, fraudulent election involving bogus mail-in ballots for Democrats.…
Trump had spent a bellicose summer and early autumn railing against mail-in ballots. After a toxic Sept. 29 election debate with Biden, Trump’s internal poll numbers nose-dived. He started choreographing election night in earnest during the second week of October, as he recovered from COVID-19.
His former chief of staff Reince Priebus told a friend he was stunned when Trump called him around that time and acted out his script, including walking up to a podium and prematurely declaring victory on election night if it looked like he was ahead.
He knew that certain swing states like Pennsylvania didn’t start counting mail ballots, which were sure to skew heavily Democratic, until Election Day. That meant that the first votes to be reported on election night would be the heavily-Republican same-day in-person votes. Trump would appear to have built up a big lead by late evening, but only because the mail ballots hadn’t been opened and counted as they trickled in during the days before the election. He deliberately exploited the process to deceive Americans who didn’t know better into thinking there was something suspicious about the mail ballots “erasing” his “lead” in the days following Election Day.
“Stop the steal” was a lie from the start. And then, because he and people like Sidney Powell wouldn’t let it go, it became a lie with a body count.
Romney’s exactly right about this:
A) Romney on some GOPers disputing Biden won: I do believe that it's important for us as Republicans in particular to point out that the big lie is simply that, a lie. That Joe Biden won the election, fair and square.
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) January 19, 2021
C) Romney: I think it's important for people to say, hey, Joe Biden won fair and square. Let's become united and and proceed from there.
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) January 19, 2021
The damage can’t be undone at this point even if Trump himself were to repudiate the lie — which he won’t. In fact, I think at some point he started to believe his own propaganda and no longer considers the “steal” to be a lie. “Everyone knows I won,” he was reportedly telling White House aides as recently as this weekend.
Reflecting Barr’s point about “precipitating” the violence, numerous MAGA supporters have cited Trump’s own support for the “stop the steal” campaign to explain how they ended up inside the Capitol two weeks ago. “We were invited here! We were invited by the president of the United States!” screamed one at a cop on the Capitol steps. Another claimed he’d been “instructed” by Trump to go to the Capitol. Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal compared what he saw at the Capitol to what he experienced watching Al Qaeda in Iraq come together 15 years ago. “President Trump has updated Lost Cause with his ‘Stop the Steal’ narrative that they lost because of a stolen election, and that is the only thing holding these people down and stopping them from assuming their rightful place in society,” McChrystal told Yahoo News. He thinks America now has a bigger problem than it realizes with domestic terrorism.
And even so, I’ll be surprised if more than a handful of Senate Republicans vote to convict at his impeachment trial.
Exit quotation: “Online misinformation about election fraud plunged 73 percent after several social media sites suspended President Trump and key allies last week…” We might hear that fact mentioned at the impeachment trial too.