Unlike the weird Q&A highlighted earlier, it’s pretty clear what Wolf Blitzer wanted to accomplish in this exchange with Attorney General William Barr.
To be “fair and balanced,” Donald Trump prompted this discussion with a rather dumb suggestion to commit voter fraud by voting twice where mass mail-in voting will take place. This CBS News report picks up part of the Blitzer-Barr conversation as well, but notes — accurately — that anyone following the president’s advice could well end up committing a felony:
Blitzer starts off pressing Barr on Trump’s advice, and gets the best of that exchange by forcing Barr to defend the idea that voting twice might be legal in some states. (Not without invalidating the mail-in ballot first, and not all states allow for that either.) It’s a dumb hill on which to die; Barr would have been better advised to try the “take him seriously, not literally” defense that usually gets trotted out in these situations.
When it comes to the issue of mass mail-in voting in general, however, Blitzer seems unprepared for Barr. Blitzer wants Barr to state that fraud isn’t a problem in mass mail-in voting, but Barr offers a very substantive rebuttal — including the results of a study co-authored by Jimmy Carter in 2009 warning of the potential for fraud with such systems. Barr gets heated when Blitzer keeps insisting that there’s no evidence of fraud even while Barr points out that they’ve prosecuted people over fraud in such systems, which also tends to cut against the later “We’re fair and balanced!” claim. That claim gets thinner the more that Blitzer keeps repeating his “no evidence” mantra while Barr keeps providing it:
BLITZER: You know, he said, if you expand mail-in voting, this is the President —
BARR: This is, you know —
BLITZER: This is reckless.
BARR: Well, this is a, you know, sort of cheap talk to get around the fundamental problem, which is a bipartisan commission chaired by Jimmy Carter and James Baker said back in 2009 that a mail-in voting is [fraught] with the risk of fraud and coercion.
BLITZER: But since then —
BARR: Let me talk.
BLITZER: Yes, please.
BARR: And since this — since that time, there been in the newspapers, in networks, academic studies saying it is open to fraud and coercion. The only time the narrative changed is after this administration came in, but elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion.
For example, we indicted someone in Texas, 1,700 ballots collected from people who could vote he made them out and voted for the person he wanted to. OK?
BLITZER: Because —
BARR: That kind of thing happens with mail-in ballot. And everyone knows that.
BLITZER: But there were individual cases, but as far as widespread fraud, we haven’t seen that since —
BARR: Well, we haven’t had the kind of widespread use of mail-in ballots as being proposed. We’ve had absentee ballots from people who request them from a specific address.
Now, what we’re talking about is mailing them to everyone on the voter list when everyone knows those voter lists are inaccurate. People who should get them don’t get them, which is what has been one of the major complaints in states that have tried this in municipal elections. And people who get them are not the right people. They’re people who have replaced the previous occupant, and they can make them out and sometimes multiple ballots come to the same address, with a whole generate — several generations of occupants.
You think that’s a way to run a vote?
BLITZER: Well, the only thing I’m saying is that so far, we haven’t seen widespread fraud.
BARR: So far we haven’t tried it.
BLITZER: Well —
BARR: The point is —
BLITZER: There’s been a lot of us — there are several states that only have mail-in voting including a Republican —
BARR; Wolf, this is dealing with fire. This is playing with fire. We’re very closely divided country here.
And if people have to have confidence in the results of the election and the legitimacy of the government. And people trying to change the rules to this methodology, which as a matter of logic is very open to fraud and coercion is reckless and dangerous, and the people are playing with fire.
BLITZER: I will point out there are five states that only have mail-in voting including Utah and Colorado and Washington State, Oregon, Hawaii, and they’ve reported over the years they’ve had virtually no problems. But who’s trying to change the rules right now?
BARR: I would say people who want to go to mass mailing ballots.
The main difference between those five states and the other 45 is that those five states have already put those systems in place years ago. The same vulnerabilities to fraud and coercion exist, but at least those states have the infrastructure already in place to handle the process. What happens when states adopt them ad hoc just before an election? New York tried that with its primary (as did California), and the failure rates on ballots skyrocketed, disenfranchising tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of voters — in the primaries.
Later on the same topic, Barr points out that such systems would be much more vulnerable to foreign interference and sabotage, which used to be a big issue for the same people pushing for mass mailing ballots:
BLITZER: All right, let’s move on and talk a little bit about another suggestion. You’ve said you were worried that a foreign country could send thousands of fake ballots, thousands of fake ballots to people that it might be impossible to detect. What are you basing that on?
BARR: I’m basing — as I’ve said repeatedly, I’m basing that on logic.
BLITZER: But have you seen any evidence that a foreign country is trying to interfere in that way?
BARR: No, I’m saying people are concern about foreign influence. And if we use a ballot system with the system that some, you know, that states are just now and trying to adopt, it does leave open the possibility of counterfeiting. Counterfeiting ballots either by someone here or someone overseas.
BLITZER: So you think a foreign country could do that?
BARR: I think anyone could do it.
BLITZER: Have you seen any evidence that they’re trying to do that?
BARR: No. But most things can be counterfeited. That’s why we go to the trouble of, you know, counter — of making our money the way we make it. Now, you know, should we have Minnesota print up our money on a regular parchment paper?
BLITZER: I asked the question because U.S. intelligence officials have said they’ve seen no information or intelligence that foreign countries whether Russia, or China —
BARR: Yes, but you ask the question, but I’ve answered that question several times. I said no, I don’t have any information because this is the first time we’ve tried such a thing.
It’s not as if the issue of foreign interference has been forgotten, either. Democrats in Congress have been fulminating over the threat for the past few weeks again and are accusing the Trump administration of hiding intelligence on it. At the same time, they’re pushing to use an unsecured mass-mail voting system while a few are still claiming that Russia might have tampered with ballot-counting processes in 2016. It’s insane, and yet Blitzer seems determined to push that insanity rather than listen to what Barr says in response to it.
Small wonder Barr laughed out loud when Blitzer claimed to be “fair and balanced.” No one else is fooled by that claim, either.