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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

On Bill Barr and ‘bullsh-t’ voter fraud claims

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

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Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law a bill adding the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. In his statement, Eisenhower said the United States must “constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”

The big idea

Bill Barr fed the fake ‘voter fraud’ beast for months while attorney general

President Donald Trump seemed “detached from reality” when he made his “crazy” claims of voter fraud after Election Day 2020, piling up a mountain of “bullsh-t” stories that he’d been cheated out of a second term. So sayeth former attorney general William P. Barr.

Barr’s blunt assessments of Trump’s frantic and fabulist efforts to stay in power anchored the second public hearing of the House committee looking into the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, a riot fueled by months of the former president’s false claims President Biden stole the White House.

In a nutshell, Monday’s hearing aimed to establish that Trump knew his public accusations were false, not the least because he’d heard as much from senior aides like Barr, who assured the panel in videotaped testimony that he’d been a behind-the-scenes voice of reason.

  • If you followed Barr’s public remarks throughout the 2020 presidential cycle, his baritone bravado was a lot to take in, given that he was a purveyor of fact-free claims casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election for much of the year.

And Barr’s testimony puts a new spin on his Dec. 14 resignation, which heaped praise on Trump and mentioned coronavirus vaccines but somehow omitted any of his private worries about the president’s “big Lie” and mental state. He concluded by wishing Trump and his family “a Merry Christmas and a Blessed Holiday Season.”

Barr then and now

The phrase “voter fraud allegations” appeared in the letter’s first paragraph, but not to highlight the lack of evidence supporting Trump’s claims. “It is incumbent on all levels of government, and all agencies acting within their purview, to do all we can to assure the integrity of elections and promote public confidence in their outcome,” Barr wrote.

Here’s some of what the former attorney general said Monday, according to my colleagues Mike DeBonis and Jacqueline Alemany:

Shortly after the election, he said, he concluded the stolen-election claims “were completely bogus and silly and usually based on complete misinformation.”

  • “I told him that the stuff that his people were shoveling out to the public was bullsh-t — I mean, that the claims of fraud were bullsh-t. And, you know, he was indignant about that.”

By Dec. 14, Barr said, he concluded that Trump had “become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff.” 

(Over at the New York Times, Katie Benner noted Barr also said he had dismissed some of Trump’s conspiracy theories as “complete nonsense” and “crazy stuff.”)

Barr stokes mail-in ballot fears

But throughout 2020, Barr lent his full support to Trump’s efforts to discredit mail-in voting.

In June 2020, Barr told Fox Business mail-in ballots “open the floodgates of potential fraud.”

(My colleague Aaron Blake pointed out Barr himself voted by mail in 2012 and 2019.)

Also that month, Barr told NPR elections done chiefly via mail-in votes can’t be secure because “there's so many occasions for fraud there that cannot be policed” and suggested foreign countries might counterfeit ballots.

  • Did he have any evidence, NPR asked? “No, it’s obvious,” Barr said. Election experts dismissed his claims, noting not just the security measures used with mail-in ballots but the idea that something on the scale of what he was suggesting would go undetected. They also pointed to the lack of fraud in U.S. states that do vote-by-mail.

Barr leveled basically the same charge in a September 2020 interview with CNN. States adopting vote-by-mail were “reckless and dangerous and people are playing with fire.”

“Elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion,” he said. (That’s not true either.) 

“For example, we indicted someone in Texas, 1,700 ballots collected, he — from people who could vote, he made them out and voted for the person he wanted to. Okay?”

Nope, as my colleague Matt Zapotosky chronicled. There was no such federal indictment. (A Barr spokeswoman blamed an errant internal memo.)

In September 2020, Barr told a Chicago Tribune columnist that moving to vote-by-mail meant “we’re back in the business of selling and buying votes” and said fraudsters could simply pay off a mail carrier to steal ballots

“Someone will say the president just won Nevada. ‘Oh, wait a minute! We just discovered 100,000 ballots! Every vote will be counted!’ Yeah, but we don’t know where these freaking votes came from,” Barr told the columnist.

None of Barr’s fire-and-brimstone predictions came true. But they served Trump’s purpose: To try to discredit mail-in ballots.

Nor were Barr’s actions all before Election Day. Barely a week later, my colleagues Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett reported, Barr publicly gave the green light to Justice Department investigations into allegations of voter fraud before the results were certified, a break with protocol.

Some federal prosecutors called bullsh-t.

What’s happening now

Biden heading next month to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank

“President Biden is planning an expansive trip to the Middle East next month, including a controversial meeting with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, a much-debated move that signals a striking relaxation in Biden’s posture toward the Saudis,” Matt Viser reports.

Jailed Russian opposition leader Navalny moved to undisclosed location

“Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been abruptly transferred from the prison where he is serving an 11-1/2 year sentence to an undisclosed location, nearly two years since he was poisoned with what the West said was a nerve agent,” Reuters's Guy Faulconbridge reports.

"Where Alexei is now, and which colony he is being taken to, we don't know," Navalny's chief of staff said in a statement on Telegram.

Most Americans oppose trans athletes in female sports, poll finds

“Even as an increasing share of Americans report familiarity with and tolerance for transgender people, most oppose allowing transgender female athletes to compete against other women at the professional, college and high school level, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll,” Tara Bahrampour, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin report.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Inside the explosive Oval Office confrontation three days before Jan. 6

“Three days before Congress was slated to certify the 2020 presidential election, a little-known Justice Department official named Jeffrey Clark rushed to meet President Donald Trump in the Oval Office to discuss a last-ditch attempt to reverse the results,” Michael Kranish reports.

“Clark, an environmental lawyer by trade, had outlined a plan in a letter he wanted to send to the leaders of key states Joe Biden won. It said that the Justice Department had ‘identified significant concerns’ about the vote and that the states should consider sending ‘a separate slate of electors supporting Donald J. Trump’ for Congress to approve.”

In fact, Clark’s bosses had warned there was not evidence to overturn the election and had rejected his letter days earlier. Now they learned Clark was about to meet with Trump.”

More than 100 GOP primary winners back Trump’s false fraud claims

“About a third of the way through the 2022 primaries, voters have nominated scores of Republican candidates for state and federal office who say the 2020 election was rigged, according to a new analysis by The Washington Post,” Amy Gardner and Isaac Arnsdorf report.

District by district, state by state, voters in places that cast ballots through the end of May have chosen at least 108 candidates for statewide office or Congress who have repeated Trump’s lies. The number jumps to at least 149 winning candidates — out of more than 170 races — when it includes those who have campaigned on a platform of tightening voting rules or more stringently enforcing those already on the books, despite the lack of evidence of widespread fraud.”

… and beyond

Future of DACA program remains uncertain, a decade after it began

“Last July, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas blocked new applications to the program, leaving roughly 80,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children ineligible for its protections. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments next month in that case, initiated in 2018 when a group of Republican-led states challenged the program over how the Obama administration created it,” Roll Call's Caroline Simon reports.

And in Congress, lawmakers’ yearslong inability to find a permanent legislative solution for Dreamers appears unlikely to change as the midterm elections draw closer and tensions over immigration and border security grow.”

Right-wing extremists amp up anti-LGBTQ rhetoric online

Jon Lewis, a George Washington University researcher who specializes in homegrown violent extremism, said outrage directed at LGBTQ people had been growing for months online, often in chat rooms frequented by members of groups like the Patriot Front,” Rebecca Boone reports for the Associated Press

“In the same way that it mobilized against Black Lives Matter in the nation’s capital in December, the Patriot Front harnesses what’s in the news cycle — in this case, drag queen story hours, disputes about transgender people in schools, and LGBTQ visibility more broadly.

The Biden agenda

Biden leans toward easing some of Trump’s China tariffs

“President Biden, in an Oval Office meeting last week with key members of his Cabinet, indicated he’s leaning toward removing some products from the Trump administration’s China tariffs list,” people familiar with the matter told Axios's Hans Nichols.

High-level U.S., China talks raise prospects for Biden-Xi call

“Top US and China officials discussed Taiwan, Ukraine and other security issues in Luxembourg, in the latest sign that leaders of the world’s two largest economies are trying to keep high-level communications open despite simmering tensions,” Bloomberg News's Jenny Leonard reports.

U.S. House passes ocean shipping bill to allay export backlogs

“The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Monday to improve oversight of ocean shipping, which supporters say will help curb inflation and ease export backlogs,” Reuters's Makini Brice and David Shepardson report. “The bill was approved 369-42 and will head to the White House for President Joe Biden's signature. Biden said in a statement he looked forward to signing it into law.”

Bipartisan resentment grows as Biden pursues new trade talks

“The White House is pursuing a new and unconventional approach to global economic engagement that eschews traditional free trade agreements — and the congressional approval they require. Members of both parties complain they are being kept in the dark as a result, receiving last-minute briefings with few details about the administration’s boldest initiatives,” Politico's Steven Overly reports

Gun-related laws across the states, visualized

“Since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, high-profile mass shootings have been followed by a jump in state gun-control laws in the next year or two years, according to a Washington Post analysis of data on state legislation compiled by RAND, a nonprofit policy research group,” Kimberly Kindy, John D. Harden, Chris Alcantara and Kevin Schaul report.

Hot on the left

Democratic meddling in GOP primaries prompts concern over elevating election deniers

“The apparent bet these [Democratic-associated groups spending millions of dollars in contested Republican primaries] are placing is that such far-right candidates, who hold polarizing views on various issues, would be easier to defeat in the November midterms when a broader slice of the electorate will be casting ballots. But some Democrats warn that this is a precarious strategy in a year when the party is facing stiff head winds — one that could result in the election of Republicans promoting false claims who could use powerful posts to disrupt future votes,” Annie Linskey reports.

Hot on the right

Death threats and epithets: The lonely primary of one Republican who impeached Trump

“GOP Rep. Tom Rice had barely ever criticized Donald Trump before he shocked just about everyone by voting to impeach him in January 2021. His experience over the next 17 months in his district might explain why so few in his party have chosen to join him,” Politico's Ally Mutnick reports.

“Rice’s campaign is a vignette of what it means to cross Trump in today’s Republican Party. The personal cost to him and those who associate with him is compounded by the threat of a career-ending loss.”

Today in Washington

At 12:25 p.m., Biden will depart Philadelphia to return to the White House, where he is expected to arrive at 1:30 p.m.

In closing

How the Watergate scandal broke to the world: A visual timeline

Here is how the Watergate story was revealed, connection by connection, leading all the way to the president. It begins on June 17, 1972, when security guard Frank Wills notices masking tape holding a door latch open between the parking garage and a stairwell at D.C.’s Watergate hotel and office complex. Bonnie Berkowitz and Dylan Moriarty have the full story here.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.