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Opinion Trump begs William Barr to save him, revealing weakness and panic

President Trump on Oct. 19 said he’s not “running scared” as national polls have him trailing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. (Video: The Washington Post)

It’s a perverse paradox of the 2020 election. On one front after another, President Trump has been extraordinarily brazen about his efforts to corrupt the election on his own behalf. And it’s precisely because of this shamelessness that his schemes keep imploding on him.

Trump just went on “Fox & Friends” and called on Attorney General William P. Barr to launch some kind of investigation into the new pseudo-scandal involving Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s laptop that Trump and his propagandists have been hyping of late.

But Trump managed to do this in such a remarkably corrupt and blatant way that it almost certainly ensures that this scheme, too, will backfire — even if Barr might have been inclined to carry it out for Trump.

Asked on Fox about the possibility of some kind of special prosecutor looking at this whole affair, Trump said: “We’ve gotta get the attorney general to act. And he’s gotta act fast. He’s gotta appoint somebody.”

“This is major corruption,” Trump continued, “and this has to be known about before the election.”

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And there you have it. Trump is practically pleading with Barr to salvage his reelection hopes, right there on national television.

Trump has been trying to manufacture narratives of corruption on the part of the Bidens for years. Each iteration has crashed and burned.

Big holes in this ‘scandal’

So far, this latest one doesn’t appear to be an exception. An email on the hard drive of a laptop that Hunter Biden allegedly left at a Delaware computer repair store is supposed to show that he arranged a meeting with his then-vice president father for an official at Burisma, which paid Hunter Biden to sit on its board.

But the authenticity of the email and Hunter Biden’s onetime ownership of the laptop both remain unverified. Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, the story’s original source, declined to provide The Washington Post with the hard drive, and he has since admitted he gave it to the New York Post because he didn’t think that outlet would seriously scrutinize it.

What’s more, numerous news outlets have now reported that the FBI is examining whether the material from Hunter Biden (which supposedly includes salacious stuff) is linked to a Russian disinformation effort. Intelligence officials had previously warned that Giuliani is a conduit for such disinformation.

Even if the email turns out to be real, it’s not at all clear it would be scandalous. Joe Biden’s campaign says no such meeting ever happened. And the whole premise here is nonsense: This meeting is being cast as part of a broader story in which Biden abused his official powers to protect Burisma and his son’s business interests, but that’s also pure fiction.

Trump’s call for a special prosecutor is also deeply absurd, since Hunter Biden is a private citizen. But we can assume that Trump just wants Barr to announce some sort of investigation into this matter — just as he tried to strong-arm the Ukrainian president into doing, getting himself impeached — to cast a vague aura of corruption on the Bidens.

And even here, this will likely end up demonstrating weakness and panic on Trump’s part more than anything else. After all, on one front after another, previous efforts to corruptly use the government toward this end have collapsed.

Nothing but fail

Trump had hoped that a phony investigation run by his GOP Senate colleagues would smear the Bidens. But its final report only further confirmed what we already know: Biden helped oust a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor in keeping with a policy backed by international institutions that had nothing to do with Burisma.

On other fronts, Trump’s scheme to push through a vaccine before the election fell apart when his brazen advertising of his designs led other stakeholders to insist on a careful, uncorrupted process. And precisely because he telegraphed his corrupt plot to try to invalidate millions of mail ballots, unprecedented numbers are voting early, making that less likely.

Meanwhile, even Barr has failed Trump. Barr recently told Republicans that he will likely not release any report on his “review” designed to cast doubt on the investigation confirming that Russia sabotaged the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf.

Trump raged at that Barr failing as a “disgrace.” And he’s plainly in a fury over all this failure: On Monday he unloaded on a reporter, calling him a “criminal” for the mere act of not uncritically amplifying the Hunter Biden story he has staked so much upon.

Trump sees unabashed corruption as strength

Only hours before Trump demanded that Barr investigate the Hunter Biden affair, a new poll was released by the New York Times and Siena College finding Biden leading nationally by 50 percent to 41 percent. The national averages put Biden up by 10.5 points.

The new Times-Siena poll also showed Trump losing the argument in every way: A majority doesn’t believe his central campaign claim that the worst of the coronavirus is behind us; Biden holds a lopsided advantage on that issue, and Trump’s vaunted edge on the economy has vanished.

Yet for Trump, it’s obvious that he equates his naked displays of corruption with shows of strength. Tellingly, in the “Fox & Friends” appearance, he immediately pivoted from demanding that investigation into declaring that “we’re doing very well” in the campaign.

The game here is to use this new pseudo-scandal to convince supporters that Trump is on offense, that he’s finally got the Bidens where he wants them, to distract from his travails. But, while a Trump victory is still possible, right now this signals panic more than anything else.

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Distrust in the Trump administration has turned into distrust of science, adding to an already powerful anti-vaccine movement. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP-Getty/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Dana Milbank: The real October Surprise is that Trump and the Republicans don’t have one

Erik Wemple: The New York Post chooses cruelty

The Post’s View: Twitter and Facebook were right to suppress a Biden smear. But they should tell us why they did.

David Ignatius: The truth behind the Hunter Biden non-scandal

Kathleen Parker: A tabloid, a dubious story and Big Bad Tech

Max Boot: Sorry, Republicans. Social media companies aren’t obligated to spread your lies.