Attorney General William Barr just dealt the most credible blow to Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen election, precisely because he previously often came across more as the President’s personal lawyer than a neutral arbiter of justice.
Trump has suffered repeated and embarrassing defeats in court. Republican governors and secretaries of state have certified results that show he lost on November 3. And he has so far failed to stage an Electoral College coup.
But Barr’s admission Tuesday that his Justice Department has looked for significant voter fraud but has found none that would change the result is sure to be treated as a betrayal by a President who demands sworn fealty from subordinates
Barr’s comments to the Associated Press on the election — which stated what every objective observer knows to be true — were such a big deal because they reflect the extent to which Trump and his aides have shattered Washington’s democratic guardrails.
By contradicting Trump’s fever dream over vote fraud, Barr, in the end, balked at being the President’s modern version of his firebrand New York attorney Roy Cohn.
His decision represented a final failure of Trump’s often successful attempt to weaponize the Justice Department as a personal and potent political weapon. Try as he might, Trump has never found a fixer equal to his former New York retainer Cohn, the notorious mafia lawyer and McCarthy-era aide for whom loyalty to his clients meant a willingness to break any rule
Barr’s political heresy came on a day when it also became clear that the President’s exit from the White House will be accompanied by the same clouds of scandal, constitutional chicanery and politicized legal gambits that shaped the most disruptive presidency of modern times.
Barr did offer the President a consolation prize by announcing that he had appointed prosecutor John Durham, who has been probing the origins of the Russia investigation, as a special counsel. This is no mere change of title: the designation means Durham will carry on his work during the Biden administration — and becomes a political landmine primed by Barr for whoever the President-elect chooses to replace him.
The risks inherent in Trump’s continued denial of reality and claims that the election was corrupt — which are eagerly embraced by his followers — are becoming increasingly clear in the strain imposed on GOP election officials.