How Bill Barr became the January 6 committee’s star witness

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    The former attorney general has been all over the first two public hearings of the committee, delivering quotable line after quotable line for public consumption.

    “Bullshit,” Barr told the committee of former President Donald Trump’s election fraud claims.

    “Right out of the box on election night, the President claimed that there was major fraud underway,” Barr said. “I mean, this happened, as far as I could tell, before there was actually any potential of looking at evidence.”

    The Justice Department “doesn’t take sides in the election, and the department is not an extension of your legal team,” Barr said he told Trump in a meeting in November 2020.

    “There was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.” Barr said of his post-election interactions with Trump.

    Again and again (and again), Barr’s quotes were the ones the committee leaned on as it sought to make its case against the former President. And, again and again, Barr quotes were the ones leading the cable news broadcasts and newspaper stories about the hearings.

    They represented a stark contrast to the halting and evasive “answers” provided by some other witnesses — most notably Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

    Kushner, for example, was asked whether he had conveyed his opinion of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to the President. After a long pause, Kushner said he had; “Not the approach I would take if I were you,” Kushner said he had told Trump. Enlightening! Not.

    The difference, of course, is what the respective witnesses have to lose — or believe they have to lose.

    Kushner and Ivanka Trump, at least in their own calculations, have tons to lose. And so they appear to have tried, in these interviews with the January 6 committee (and, really, the entirety of their time in the White House) to thread a very narrow needle: staying close enough to Trump to retain access and power while keeping enough distance to steer clear of the President’s most controversial moves. (The New York Times literally ran a piece over the weekend headlined, “How Jared Kushner Washed His Hands of Donald Trump Before Jan. 6.”)
    Barr, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to lose. He resigned as attorney general in mid-December 2020 amid ongoing issues with Trump and his increasingly wild (and fact-free) claims about the 2020 election. And even that stint as the nation’s top cop was sort of like a victory lap for Barr anyway; he had held the same job in the Bush 41 administration.

    Barr is also 72 years old. He’s very unlikely to serve in another Trump administration (if Trump runs and wins in 2024), and he’ll be too old to do so if Trump loses in 2024 and it’s not until 2028 when a Republican has a chance at the White House.

    There’s also another reason for Barr’s star turn as a witness: He’s trying to shape, retroactively, how his time spent in the Trump administration — and, in particular, his views on voter fraud — is told by the history books.

    Remember that Barr was far less skeptical of voter fraud claims made by Trump before the 2020 election.

    Here’s an exchange between Barr and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in September 2020:

    Blitzer: You’ve said you were worried that a foreign country could send thousands of fake ballots, thousands of fake ballots to people, and it might be impossible to detect. What are you basing that on?

    Barr: I’m basing that — as I’ve said repeatedly, I’m basing that on logic.

    Blitzer: Pardon?

    Barr: Logic.

    Blitzer: But have you seen any evidence that a foreign country is trying to interfere in that way? Are you concerned —

    Barr: No, I’m saying people — no, I’m saying people are concerned about foreign influence, and if we use a ballot system with a system that some — that states are just now in 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 can do that.

    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 through the trouble of counter — of making our money the way we make it.

    Barr, asked in a March 2022 — yes 2022! — interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper whether he stood by what he had said in the fall of 2020, said this:

    “I stand by all of that. My view is that in such a closely divided country with so much at stake, we have to keep strong protections against fraud and protect the integrity of the election, and I think when they are diluted and reduced — which they were — then people are not going to have confidence in the election, whether or not fraud occurs.”

    Which, well, right.

    And it’s not just that. A top election crimes prosecutor at the Department of Justice quit in the days after the election after Barr said that the department should look into election irregularities.

    Barr then is far from blameless in sowing the seeds of the Big Lie. Which, at some level, he must know — and want to rectify.

    Barr’s prominence in these committee hearings may well fade as the legislators move closer to the events of the January 6 riot at the US Capitol. But, for the moment, he is the star witness of these proceedings.

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