Bill Barr calls "bullshit" on Trump's Big Lie — but it is much too late now

Trump's former attorney general returns on his rehab tour to argue that false election claims were "just a joke"

By Heather Digby Parton
Published June 28, 2021 9:58AM (EDT)
US Attorney General Bill Barr holds a news conference to provide an update on the investigation of the terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on the 32nd anniversary of the attack, at the Department of Justice December 21, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
US Attorney General Bill Barr holds a news conference to provide an update on the investigation of the terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on the 32nd anniversary of the attack, at the Department of Justice December 21, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

Donald Trump held his first full-fledged rally since leaving office this past weekend in Ohio and nobody really cared. Sure, he packed the house with MAGA faithful, eager to see their idol and sing along to the greatest hits. But it landed with a thud in the media — and that's got to hurt.

None of the major networks covered Trump's first return rally live, not even Fox News, which stuck with "Watters World" and "Justice with Judge Jeanine" instead. It looks like Trump is going to have to come up with some new schtick if he thinks he can run again. I suspect that only the most devoted MAGA fans really want to hear him mention Hillary Clinton so they can all chant "lock her up" for the ten-thousandth time and lurch into yet another awkward rendition of "YMCA." 

It may even be possible that sore loser Trump's pathetic obsession with the last election is why some of his former henchmen and sycophants are taking some tiny baby steps away from him in a vain attempt to salvage some shred of their reputations. Since they failed to save his wretched presidency, Trump rejected them anyway, so what do they have to lose?

Former Vice President Mike Pence has been out on the road trying to both stay loyal to the MAGA legacy (such as it is) while defending his decision on January 6th not to destroy the constitution for the dotty, orange man in the White House. This week he even went so far as to give a speech at the Ronald Reagan library in which he actually came close to suggesting that Trump is not, in fact, a living god:

"I will always be proud that we did our part on that tragic day to reconvene the Congress and fulfilled our duty under the Constitution and the laws of the United States. The truth is, there is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president." 

It appears Pence has finally managed to wipe that adoring gaze off his own face. What good it does him remains to be seen?

Trump's number one henchman, former Attorney General William Barr, is also on his own reputation rehab tour after having repeatedly protected Trump and his cronies and abruptly ending his disgraceful tenure at the top of Trump's shit list. He spoke with ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl, a reporter known for being friendly to members of the right-wing, for Karl's new book about the Trump administration's final days called Betrayal, due out in December.

Karl published an excerpt in the Atlantic this weekend that shows Barr as an independent-minded tough guy hero, slinging around the word "bullshit" like he's Robert DeNiro in "Goodfellas." According to this version of events, Barr always knew that Trump was going to lose and he just pretended to be concerned about Joe Biden stealing the election so he'd have the credibility to say that the Democrats won fair and square. Sure, he did.

Yes, it is true that Barr told the AP on Dec. 1st that the DOJ had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud. That was big of him considering the stakes (and the fact that he broke yet another DOJ rule by prematurely "investigating" the issue in the first place.) But according to Karl, this was really done at the behest of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who believed they needed to admit defeat so he could win the two runoff races in Georgia by saying they needed a GOP firewall in the Senate. Barr told him he understood and would say the election was not stolen when the time was right. According to Karl, McConnell confirmed the conversation. Apparently, Barr and McConnell see absolutely nothing wrong with the Senate Majority Leader conscripting the attorney general to help him win a couple of races. They don't even try to hide their corruption anymore. I'm not sure they even know what it is.

And let's not forget that no one in the administration more eagerly followed Trump's pre-election playbook, preparing his followers for The Big Lie. All the way back in June of 2020, Barr went on NPR and claimed that mail-in ballots were ripe for fraud, especially "counterfeiting," none of which he could provide evidence for, simply saying "it's obvious." NPR's public editor later admonished the network for airing these false claims, even quoting one expert saying they were "totally nuts."

That didn't stop him.

Barr continued to repeat his weird beliefs about "counterfeit" ballots in congressional testimony and in a wild CNN interview (which I wrote about here) leading up to the election. He never offered any evidence for his claims which, in many respects, were even more outrageous than Trump's. The idea that Barr, of all people, was some kind of Big Lie skeptic is absurd. Nobody pushed it harder than he did — until the writing was on the wall and he realized that his place in history was going to be somewhere between Rudy Giuliani, Roy Cohn and Sidney Powell.

According to Karl, Trump went totally bonkers when he heard that Barr said there was no evidence of fraud, and you can't blame him for being surprised. But in a faint echo of the famous march up to the White House by Barry Goldwater to tell Nixon that he had lost the support of Congress, this tale has Barr going to meet with an enraged, red-faced Trump who shrieked, "How the fuck could you do this to me? Why did you say it?" prompting the steely Attorney General to simply reply, "because it's true."

Trump then ranted and called him worthless and Barr left that meeting unsure if he still had a job. He and the White House worked it out the next day with Barr saying that he'd stay on a long as he was needed, which lasted for a few more days until the brave speaker of truth to power wrote one of the most obsequious resignation letters in history and snuck out of town just before all hell broke loose.  


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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