The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Have you heard about how Bill Barr saved democracy? Let Bill Barr tell you.

President Donald Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr at the White House on May 22, 2019. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Have you heard about how Bill Barr saved democracy?

It’s all there — in this new book by, er, Bill Barr.

In excerpts published Thursday in the Wall Street Journal, President Donald Trump’s former attorney general recounts how he bravely stood up to Trump about his bogus claims of election fraud, telling him: “The fact is, we have looked at the major claims your people are making, and they are bulls---.”

The courageous Barr hit Trump with another expletive: “I’ve told you that the fraud claims are not supported. … But your legal team continues to shovel this s--- out to the American people. And it is wrong.”

And another! “’Mr. President,’ I said, ‘the reason you are in this position is that, instead of having a crackerjack legal team that had its s--- together from day one, you wheeled out a clown show.’ ”

Our protagonist was relentless in his pursuit of truth. “’Look, Mr. President, they wasted a whole month with this idiotic claim about Dominion machines,’ I continued. ‘First, there is no evidence they were compromised.’ ”

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Barr delivered yet another self-congratulatory swipe at Trump: “The president seemed a bit taken aback that I seemed to know what I was talking about. ‘Have you bothered to ask the people who are feeding you this s--- how the votes compared to the last election?’ I pressed.”

Barr goes on to recount how Trump tried to fire him, but aides cried out “No!” and “This is a big mistake, Mr. President,” and begged Barr not to go.

Codswallop. If Barr did say anything like that privately to Trump, it only shows how deceitful he was in public, lending credence to Trump’s ridiculous claims.

In real time, Barr jettisoned Justice Department norms and authorized the department to open election-fraud investigations before the tallies were certified. Barr, who had falsely asserted that mail-in voting was vulnerable to counterfeit foreign ballots, did allow at one point that the Justice Department hadn’t found enough fraud to change the election outcome — “to date.” But his sycophantic departure letter (“you built the strongest and most resilient economy in American history”) said “these allegations will continue to be pursued.”

Had Barr spoken out publicly about Trump’s “clown show,” perhaps he could have punctured the “big lie” before it resulted in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Barr didn’t even speak out during Trump’s impeachment, instead offering his self-serving view 14 months later while hawking his book — after Trump managed to get the bulk of the Republican electorate to accept the “big lie” as an article of faith.

Barr is just the latest in the parade of former Trump officials to wash their hands of him long after their public condemnation would have done any good: John Bolton, John F. Kelly, Rex Tillerson, Jim Mattis, Reince Priebus, Nikki Haley, Gary Cohn, Omarosa Manigault Newman, Michael Cohen, Anthony Scaramucci, H.R. McMaster and many more.

But nobody in the administration did more to enable Trump’s deceptions and assaults on democracy than Barr. He buried the Mueller report while issuing a public summary that misrepresented it; he alleged the Obama administration “spied” on the Trump campaign, and he appointed a prosecutor who is, years later, still trying to prove true Trump’s paranoid fantasy; he scoured the world for evidence to discredit the Trump-Russia probe; his Justice Department gave credibility to Rudy Giuliani’s ravings about the Bidens in Ukraine; he tried to give favorable treatment to Trump cronies Michael Flynn and Roger Stone; he justified the violent assault on peaceful demonstrators in Lafayette Square; he made unfounded allegations against “antifa” and assembled a militia-like force of often-unidentified federal police in D.C. And on, and on.

Now Barr wants to be remembered as the brave figure who spoke truth to power? Talk about a clown show.

Barr’s attempted self-justification would be funny if the consequences of his silence hadn’t been so dire. He allowed Trump to pull off a democracy-defying swindle.

Today, only 1 in 5 Republicans believe Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. This means 80 percent have swallowed a flagrant lie — hook, line and sinker. Barr, and those in similar positions in the GOP, allowed the triumph of disinformation.

We can all see where this could lead.

Vladimir Putin has justified his invasion of Ukraine on a tapestry of lies: Ukraine was committing genocide against Russians, it was run by neo-Nazis and drug addicts, it was a puppet of the United States secretly building nuclear weapons. And Russian state television uses clips of Tucker Carlson and other Fox News personalities echoing Putin propaganda.

If you can convince the public that free and fair elections are illegitimate, it’s not much of a leap to convince the public that a democratic neighbor is a Nazi regime. Mass deception is the tool of the autocrat. And Bill Barr gave it his blessing.