This post has been updated with Barr’s new comment.

It has been eight months since Trump lawyer Sidney Powell promised to unleash the “Kraken” — i.e. incontrovertible evidence that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. It still hasn’t arrived, nor has anything even close to it. Powell, who is facing a lawsuit from a voting-machine company, has effectively suggested in court that she was just saying stuff. Now, she and other lawyers involved face potential sanction for their sloppy advocacy.

But for some reason, none of that has deterred the many, many stolen-election true believers in the GOP. You’d think at some point they’d resent those who promised so much and delivered so little. But it hasn’t happened.

A big reason: They are continually served up thin gruel to keep the con going. And former president Donald Trump delivered a heaping serving of that thin gruel Monday.

Trump has over the past 10 days previewed a new angle in his long-running, quixotic quest to vindicate his voter-fraud claims. He said at a rally in Florida on July 3 that a U.S. attorney appointed by his administration was prohibited from examining claims of voter fraud in Philadelphia. (“That’s a big statement,” Trump said, adding: “Could you imagine this?”) He followed that up Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) by again citing the alleged stifling of the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Bill McSwain, and suggesting a letter was involved.

“This just came out in a letter,” Trump said. “We have a letter. You’ll have to get it from him. Because I want to stay out of it. Get if from the U.S. attorney. I’m sure he’d be willing to provide it.”

It turns out Trump does want to get involved in it. On Monday night, his team released the letter after all. In it, McSwain claims then-Attorney General William P. Barr directed him not to publicly disclose voter-fraud allegations and to refer them to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. But he suggests this was bad because Shapiro, a Democrat, predicted before Election Day that Trump would lose Pennsylvania.

“On Election Day and afterwards, our Office received various allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities,” McSwain wrote. “As part of my responsibilities as U.S. Attorney, I wanted to be transparent with the public and, of course, investigate fully any allegations. Attorney General Barr, however, instructed me not to make any public statements or put out any press releases regarding possible election irregularities. I was also given a directive to pass along serious allegations to the State Attorney General for investigation — the same State Attorney General who had already declared that you could not win.”

The letter serves a simple purpose for Trump: to suggest there was maybe actually something there but Barr undercut him in rooting it out. Trump has upped his criticism of Barr ever since Barr was quoted last month comparing Trump’s fraud claims to bovine manure.

The idea that Barr, who took many controversial stands for Trump, was somehow part of the deep state working to ensure Trump’s loss is rich enough. But there are plenty of other reasons the letter is hardly as significant as Trump suggests.

The first reason is the timing and the man who wrote it. The letter is not a contemporaneous account from when these fraud allegations were lodged or when McSwain was allegedly stifled; rather, it’s dated June 9, months after McSwain exited as U.S. attorney.

And McSwain isn’t just a former U.S. attorney; he’s ramping up a campaign for governor of Pennsylvania. The purpose of the letter is very clear: He wants Trump’s endorsement for that campaign.

“Based on my background and experience, I am uniquely positioned to defeat Mr. Shapiro (the likely Democratic candidate) and would welcome the chance to discuss this with you in person,” McSwain says. “I would be honored to have your support.”

If there’s anything the past nine months have shown us, it’s that to get that all-important endorsement, you have to play Trump’s game on fomenting questions about the election results. It’s a threshold issue for Trump, including most definitely in Pennsylvania. A potential McSwain opponent in the GOP primary, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, has been very out front on pushing for scrutiny of Pennsylvania’s 2020 election. McSwain, as his letter goes on, lays out many steps he would take to safeguard elections, which he calls “one of my first priorities” as governor.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Barr denied McSwain’s allegation and said McSwain told him Monday that he was indeed trying to curry favor with Trump:

In an interview, Barr disputed McSwain’s characterizations of his actions, and said McSwain told him he wrote the letter in a bid to win Trump’s endorsement — or at least stave off attacks.
“Any suggestion that McSwain was told to stand down from investigating allegations of election fraud is false. It’s just false,” Barr said, adding that the assertions “appeared to have been made to mollify President Trump to gain his support for McSwain’s planned run for governor.”
Barr said he called McSwain on Monday to complain about the letter, which he heard about before it became public. McSwain defended his missive as technically accurate while asserting, “I can’t have Trump attacking me,” Barr said. McSwain, he added, told him that “he was in a tough spot because he wanted to run and he needed Trump’s at least neutrality, if not support.”
McSwain disputed Barr’s description of their discussion, saying in an interview that his motive for writing the letter “is that I believe in transparency. The more people who know the facts, the better.”

The second, related reason is that McSwain has a history of being a rather political U.S. attorney. HuffPost’s Ryan J. Reilly recapped McSwain’s various controversies Monday night. Last year, he spent $75,000 in taxpayer dollars to put his face, name and Twitter handle on tough-on-crime billboards, even at a time in which it was thought he might soon run for office. He also attacked Philadelphia’s mayor and district attorney last year, comparing them to segregationists. (They’re both Democrats.) And just days before Election Day 2020, McSwain announced arson charges against four men who allegedly targeted police during racial-justice protests last summer — arrests that played into Trump’s efforts to make that unrest a campaign issue.

The third point is that, whatever concerns McSwain has had about the validity of the election, he has been rather tight-lipped about them. Why come out with this now? And why do it privately while seeking an endorsement? McSwain emphasizes in his letter that he complied with Barr’s order because he’s a former Marine who respects the chain of command. But anybody writing that letter had to know that Trump would be tempted to disclose this. It just looks self-serving now.

That last key point, though, is that there’s just not a lot of there there. The policy of the Justice Department is almost always to avoid disclosing allegations and to wait until crimes can actually be charged. So that’s hardly surprising.

What’s more, McSwain offers no detail on exactly what the allegations were. There are always allegations of fraud in elections, and this election saw a bunch of them from potentially well-meaning people. They signed sworn affidavits that the Trump team used in court, but those affidavits were regularly proved to be baseless, misinformed about election procedures or outright false.

In other words, there is still no proof of widespread fraud in Pennsylvania or any other key state. Trump and his lawyers promised proof, and they haven’t delivered. So they’ve instead apparently been reduced to playing this kind of small-ball involving people with political motivations who aren’t even really saying all that much.