“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn declared, “we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand-fold in the future.”
Former Attorney General William BarrBill BarrMeadows hires former deputy AG to represent him in Jan. 6 probe: report Why it's time for conservatives to accept the 2020 election results and move on Bannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ MORE kept silent about a profound threat to American democracy. He served — at minimum — as an enabler of false claims that the 2020 presidential election had been rigged. Barr’s recent attempt to separate himself from Trump’s “Big Lie” cannot remove the stain on his reputation.
In interviews with Jonathan Karl of ABC News, Barr asserts that after he publicly acknowledged on Dec. 1, 2020, that the Justice Department had uncovered no evidence of widespread fraud, he spoke truth to power in “a put-up or shut up time” meeting at the White House. When President TrumpDonald TrumpGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Super PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE asked “How the f—k could you do this to me? Why did you say it?” Barr claims he replied, “Because it’s true.” And the legal team representing Trump in courts around the country “is a clown show… It’s just a joke. That’s why you are where you are.” The president shot back, “You must hate Trump."
Here’s what Barr left out of his exercise in selective history:
Throughout the fall of 2020, he echoed President Trump’s self-serving warnings about voter fraud. “Elections that have been held with mail,” Barr announced, “have found substantial fraud and coercion.” Pressed to supply evidence in light of the experience of five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah — that have relied heavily on mail-in ballots for many years with no evidence of widespread fraud, Barr replied that his concern was based on “logic.”
Following the presidential election, Barr indicated that allegations of ballot tampering were “substantial” and “could potentially impact the outcome” of the contest. In mid-November, he told prosecutors not affiliated with the election crimes branch of the Justice Department to skip procedural steps and investigate claims before states moved to certify their results ahead of the meeting of the Electoral College.
At this time as well, Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE (R-Ky.), another profile in something-a-bit-less-than-courage, expressed concern that Trump’s charges about uncounted or altered ballots would dissuade Republicans from voting in run-off elections in Georgia and give Democrats a majority in the U.S. Senate. McConnell reportedly told Barr that the Attorney General was in a better position than the Majority Leader “to inject some reality into the situation. You are really the only one who can do it.” Barr replied that he would speak out “at the appropriate time.”
Other than the far less than definitive statement Barr made on Dec. 1, the appropriate time never came. We do not know with certainty whether Barr’s resignation was precipitated by the contentious meeting at the White House. Or who made the decision. We do know that Barr did not “put up or shut up” when he announced that he would leave, effective Dec. 23.
Barr’s resignation letter began with an expression of “appreciation” for the opportunity to report to the president on the DOJ’s review of voter fraud allegations “and how these allegations will continue to be reviewed.” Noting that the country was deeply divided, Barr maintained “it is incumbent on all levels of government, and all agencies within their purview, to do all we can to assure the integrity of elections and promote public confidence in their outcome.” Barr did not assert that there was no evidence of fraud, that none had been discovered, nor did he lay out a justification for further investigations.
Instead, Barr changed the subject, launching into a list of the “many successes” of the Trump administration.
The record was “all the more historic,” he declared, “because you accomplished it in the face of relentless, implacable resistance. Your 2016 victory speech in which you reached out to your opponents and called for working together for the benefit of the American people was immediately met by a partisan onslaught against you in which no tactic, no matter how abusive and deceitful, was out of bounds.”
Trump loyalists, no doubt, concluded and still believe that these deceitful partisans were more than willing to rig the presidential election to keep themselves in power.
In public, William Barr was no truth-teller — he was a sycophant to the end.
Barr must live with the pivotal role he played in legitimizing a lie that — long after it has risen up and precipitated an assault on the U.S. Capitol — he now says he knew “all along was bullshit.”
Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of "Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century."