Between the coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest in major U.S. cities, huge anti-racism protests, bitter political divisions, a heated Supreme Court battle and President Donald Trump's ruthless voter suppression efforts, the United States' 2020 presidential election is turning out to be even more chaotic than the elections of 2000 and 1968. Trump has a devoted loyalist in U.S. Attorney General William Barr, and former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade discusses the effect he could have on the 2020 election in a disturbing op-ed published in the Washington Post on Sept. 22.
"William P. Barr sounds more like a far-right-wing news pundit lately than the nation's attorney general when he's discussing politics and the coming election," McQuade warns. "The difference is that unlike talk show panelists, Barr has the power to do something about it."
McQuade gets into specific comments from Barr, noting, "He said, 'These so-called Black Lives Matter people' are 'not interested in black lives. They're interested in props: a small number of blacks who were killed by police during conflict with police, usually less than a dozen a year, who they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda.' He told a journalist that if President Trump is not reelected, then the nation would be 'irrevocably committed to the socialist path.' He called coronavirus lockdowns 'the greatest intrusion on civil liberties other than slavery.' Later, he lauded the role of politics in prosecution, saying, 'The most basic check on prosecution is politics.'"
The former U.S. attorney adds that Barr has joined Trump in making the baseless claim that mail-in ballots encourage voter fraud on a grand scale, and she fears that if the presidential election is close, Barr won't hesitate to intervene or to give Trump an unfair advantage over his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
"Barr has demonstrated a determination to use his position — and the legal powers of the federal government — to advance the president's political interests," McQuade explains. "So, what damage could Barr do in the days and weeks after the election to help Trump stay in office no matter what voters might prefer? First, Barr has the power to file criminal charges of voter fraud. The presidential election is really state elections, but that doesn't mean the federal government can't step in."
A "determined Barr," McQuade goes on to say, "could use the fraud statute to charge voters, the Democratic Party or even state election officials with a crime" and "could also involve the Justice Department in civil suits challenging election results."
McQuade notes, "If a candidate or party filed a lawsuit challenging the election results in one or more states, a statement of interest would allow the Justice Department to make arguments that favor Trump's campaign. Think Bush v. Gore, but with the U.S. government taking sides. That tactic could bring the powerful voice of the Justice Department to the case, potentially influencing the court of law as well as the court of public opinion."
"The Justice Department has long taken pride in being independent of politics," McQuade writes. "Barr's erosion of this tradition could take our country to a very dark place — sooner than we think."