“William Barr began his tenure as Donald Trump’s attorney general with extremely evasive testimony during his confirmation hearing. He may be best remembered for giving a highly misleading summary of the Mueller report, and he spent much of 2020 trying to substantiate Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election being rigged against him.
But now, more than six months following his departure from government, Barr is trying to do some image damage control.
In interviews with journalist Jonathan Karl for a book excerpted in the Atlantic, Barr details how his final break with Trump finally came after he went public with claims undermining Trump’s last-ditch effort to overturn his election loss to Joe Biden.
“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told an Associated Press reporter on December 1.
Barr told Karl that comment prompted an angry Trump to summon him into a meeting in which the president unloaded on him, saying things like “how the fuck could you do this to me?” and “you must hate Trump.”
Barr indicates that not only was he not intimidated by Trump’s outburst, but he fired back, comparing the Rudy Giuliani-led effort to overturn the results to a circus.
“You know, you only have five weeks, Mr. President, after an election to make legal challenges,” Barr told Trump, according to Karl. “This would have taken a crackerjack team with a really coherent and disciplined strategy. Instead, you have a clown show. No self-respecting lawyer is going anywhere near it. It’s just a joke. That’s why you are where you are.”
Barr ended up leaving the Department of Justice days before the January 6 insurrection. The new account of the weeks leading up to his resignation has led some to describe him as a “patriot.” But that’s going way too far even when Barr’s account is read in the most charitable light.”
“Barr spent the run-up to the 2020 election serving more as an arm of Trump’s campaign than he did as an independent arbiter of the rule of law. Barr was happy to amplify Trump’s lies about mail voting and voting fraud up to the point where it was clear to all but the most fanatical Trump supporters that he had lost the election.
Consider, for instance, the disastrous interview Barr did with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on September 2, when he couldn’t produce any evidence of mail voting fraud and resorted to saying its general existence is a “matter of logic.” Or his DOJ’s decision a few weeks later to issue a factually incorrect press release announcing an investigation into alleged mail voting irregularities in Pennsylvania — an announcement that violated DOJ’s policies. Or Barr’s move three days after the election to authorize investigations into “substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities,” even though there was no evidence of such irregularities.
In his interviews with Karl, Barr portrayed his decision to authorize fraud investigations despite a lack of evidence as a strategy he used to make sure he would be able to tell Trump that his conspiracy theories were baseless when the time came.”
“it’s not normal for the DOJ, which is ostensibly supposed to operate with a modicum of independence from the executive branch, to pursue investigations based on “bullshit” conspiracy theories favored by the president. But Barr spent years turning the DOJ into something akin to the president’s personal law firm.”
“It’s not even clear to what extent — if at all — Barr’s break with Trump was motivated by a desire to protect American democracy. Instead, Karl’s piece makes it seem as though Barr and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were primarily interested in helping Republicans win special elections in January for two US Senate seats.
Karl writes that McConnell had been urging Barr throughout November to speak out against Trump’s election fraud conspiracy theories, because those theories were complicating the argument Republicans wanted to make about how maintaining the Senate majority was important as a check on Biden’s power. But McConnell was reluctant to speak out himself for fear that if he did so, an embittered Trump would sabotage the Republican candidates”
“while it’s good that Barr ultimately stood up to Trump, it’s worth keeping in mind how abnormal it is for the US attorney general to be scheming with the Senate leader on ways to ensure their political party retains power.”
“Former President Donald Trump did not succeed in overturning his election loss to Joe Biden. But he did succeed during his lame-duck period in knocking Fox News down a peg.
Over the past few months, Trump repeatedly derided Fox News while promoting upstart rivals like Newsmax and One America News Network (OAN), both of which more reliably pushed his conspiracy theories about the election being stolen. Fox News responded to this very public post-Election Day rift with Trump — and the sagging ratings that came with it — by purging its newsroom and doubling down on grievance-soaked punditry.”
” Though it’s obviously silly to get mad at a cable news channel for accurately calling an election result, that’s exactly what Trump did. In the weeks following his defeat, he routinely blasted the network for its sagging ratings, describing its daytime quasi-news programming as “not watchable” as he promoted further-right alternatives like Newsmax and OAN.”
“Earlier this month, two executives involved in the Arizona call — Bill Sammon, senior vice president and managing editor at Fox’s Washington bureau, and politics editor Chris Stirewalt — were forced out. Diana Falzone and Lachlan Cartwright reported for the Daily Beast that those moves were part of a broader “purge” to “get rid of real journalists.””
“If the goal of these moves is to win back viewers who are now opting for Newsmax and OAN instead of Fox News, they haven’t so far worked. Twice since the election, including once earlier this month, Newsmax has bested Fox News in a key demographic during an hour of programming.
Newsmax and OAN have carved out niches as networks especially willing to spread right-wing conspiracy theories and misinformation. In the weeks leading up to the January 6 Capitol riot, for instance, former Trump national security adviser and key QAnon figure Michael Flynn went on Newsmax and floated the idea of Trump declaring martial law to overturn his election loss and didn’t receive any pushback at all.”
“Nonetheless, Fox News seems willing to give its audience more conspiracy-theory-based programming. On Tuesday night, the top-rated anchor on Fox News, Tucker Carlson, platformed another Trumpist figure facing a defamation lawsuit for spreading fake news about the election — MyPillow founder Mike Lindell — and allowed him to push more conspiracies about voting machines.”
“Fox News spent most of the Trump years enjoying a symbiotic relationship with the president. Its hosts ran interference for him and gave his family members and administration officials unlimited access to softball interviews before a national audience, and in return Trump promoted the network with live tweets, praise, and scorn for the competition.
But with Trump out of power, Fox News quickly shifted from “all Trump, all the time” to becoming a gadfly, devoting multiple segments of programming each day to pointing out alleged liberal hypocrisy and using culture war issues to stoke grievances.”
“Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was confronted by a CBS reporter as he stepped off a plane. “What is your response to the New York Post story about your son, sir?”
To his credit, Biden dismissed the question, but that’s not really the point. The story the reporter was referencing, which was peddled to the Post by Rudy Giuliani, is absolute bullshit. The staff journalist who wrote the story even reportedly refused to put his name on the byline out of concerns that it was bogus and unreliable.”
“the goal of people like Giuliani was to get the press to cover a story not in order to convince people that it’s true, but to amplify a false narrative and divert attention — and maybe drive the public to exhaustion. It’s a strategy that Steve Bannon colorfully dubbed “flooding the zone with shit.””
““Obamagate” is a convoluted mess of conspiracy theories untethered to reality. It is a deflection from the utter catastrophe unfolding daily because of the Trump administration’s disastrous coronavirus response.
That may not matter. Trump has used the “witch hunt” strategy since the start of his presidency, and, when it comes to his base and his allies in Congress and the administration, it works.”
“Consider this Axios tweet stating that “Biden’s presence on the list could turn it into an election year issue, though the document itself does not show any evidence of wrongdoing.” But Biden’s name on a document is only an election issue if the press treats it like one. And if the “document itself does not show any evidence of wrongdoing,” why the hell are we talking about it? Again, we’re talking about it because Trump talked about it and now it’s a legitimized “story.”
This is the latest example of zone-flooding, a phenomenon I described at length back in February. The strategy was best articulated (in America, at least) by Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and chief strategist for Donald Trump, who in 2018 reportedly said: “The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”
This is a new form of propaganda tailored to the digital age and it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t possible. And it’s all the more difficult because even the most scrupulous, well-intentioned coverage can easily fall into the trap of flooding the zone.
My concern in February was that zone-flooding had created a media environment in which the facts of Trump’s impeachment trial would be utterly meaningless. No matter how the trial played out, no matter what was uncovered, no single version of the truth would be accepted. And that, sadly, is how it played out.”
“The media, then, is caught in a loop. Trump — or one of his supporters — says something we all know is absurd and false. The rest of the right-wing media and members of the GOP establishment add to the cacophony. And then we dignify the absurdity with coverage that treats it as worthy of rebuke. And in the process, we amplify the false narrative we’re debunking and flood the zone with more and more shit. That leaves people confused and exhausted, unable to discern fact from fiction and inclined to disengage altogether or, even worse, retreat further into partisan bubbles.
The press has always sought to conquer lies by exposing them. But that doesn’t work anymore. There is too much misinformation, too many claims to refute, too many competing narratives. And because the decision to cover something is almost always a decision to amplify it, the root problem is our very concept of “news” — what counts and what doesn’t.”
” Obamagate is another example of this systemic failure. Here we have — and I can’t say this enough — a complete non-scandal. There’s no “there” there. It’s pure misinformation. But we’re still talking about it. And I’m writing this piece about it. This is a massive problem. Even though I’m trying to point up a flaw in our system, I’m still somehow participating in the mess I’m hoping to clean up. This is the paradox we’re all up against.”