Bill Barr, on a mission to stop Trump, can still vote for him

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Bill Barr, on a mission to stop Trump, can still vote for him

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It’s hard not to see these two data points as symptoms of a democracy sick and in need of immediate help:

  • The US government is putting its former president on trial for conspiring to subvert the democratic will of his people in 2020, even though he knew he had lost. Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty during his first court appearance in the case on Thursday.
  • A new CNN poll finds that a significant portion of Republicans and more than a third of the country still do not believe the outcome of the 2020 election is legitimate.

The criminal case may hinge on whether it can be proven that Trump knew he had lost the election, as all his official advisers have told him.

Check out this interactive content on CNN.com

Whatever he knew in his mind, Trump remains focused on creating more than a shadow of doubt about US elections, especially when they involve him.

This has helped lead a solid majority of Republicans and Republican Independents doubt that President Joe Biden’s defeat by Trump in 2020 is legal. Republican Party doubters hit 72% in CNN poll in 2021. Today, the figure is stable at 69%. Among registered voters who voted for Trump in 2020, 75% say they will have doubts about Biden’s legitimacy.

There is certainly a scale of doubt. A smaller share of Republicans and Republicans, 39%, doubt that the election was legitimate and think there is solid evidence that it was. No evidence of widespread voter fraud has been found despite exhaustive reviews and legal challenges.

Overall, 61% of Americans say Biden legitimately won enough votes to win the presidency, and 38% think he did not. Read more about the new survey by CNN’s Jennifer Agiesta and Arielle Edwards-Levy.

When people don’t believe the system produces a valid winner, it raises very real questions about whether the system is showing cracks.

With that, consider a remarkable interview Wednesday night with one of the minority of Republicans who fully believe the overwhelming evidence that the election was legitimate.

Bill Barr was Trump’s attorney general and says the former president shouldn’t be anywhere near the Oval Office. A frequent target of insults from Trump, Barr praised elements of the indictment against him and said he believed Trump knew he had lost the election even as he tried to overturn it.

Despite all that, Barr told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins that he hasn’t ruled out voting for Trump. Read the full interview here or read some key excerpts below. I have paraphrased Collins’ questions to shorten the length.

Barr said he has concerns about the impeachment against Trump related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election: It’s complicated, it requires proving things that might be hard to prove, it doesn’t counter the political right’s notion that he has a double standard at the Department of Justice, it will distract from 2024 election, the outcome may affect this elections etc.

BAR: “But as a legal matter, I see no problem with the indictment.” I don’t think it’s abuse. The Justice Department did not act to weaponize the department by suing the president for conspiring to undermine the election process.

BAR: “No, I really don’t think that’s a valid argument because, as the indictment says, they’re not attacking his First Amendment right.

“He can say whatever he wants. He might even be lying. He can even tell people the election was stolen when he knew better.

“But that doesn’t keep you from entering a conspiracy. All conspiracies involve speech. And all deception involves speech. So free speech does not give you the right to participate in a fraudulent conspiracy.

BAR: “Do I personally believe this? Yeah, I wasn’t sure at first. But I believe he knew very well that he had lost the election.

“And now, what I think is important is that the government has taken on the burden of proving that. In its prosecution, the government took the position that he actually knew he had lost the election and the election was not stolen by fraud. And they will have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

BAR: “Oh yeah, I think (special prosecutor Jack Smith) has a lot more. And that’s one of the things that struck me about the indictment. It was very frugal. And there’s a lot he could have said there. And I think there’s a lot more. And I think they have a lot more evidence of President Trump’s state of mind.

BAR: “No. 1, comments from people like (Steve) Bannon and (Roger) Stone before the election saying that he was going to — he was going to claim it was stolen if he was behind on election night and that was the plan.

“I find these statements very disturbing. And then you see him do that on election night.

“And then, the evidence that has come out since then, the press reports and the indictment, and his lack of curiosity about what the actual facts are, just walk away — that’s my personal opinion. This is my personal opinion. And we’ll see if the government can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

BAR: “Well, the main issue should be the justice to the accused, the fairness of the trial.

“And I think it does — I think there’s arguments to be made both ways about whether it should come first or whether it should come after. Of course, if he is elected president, coming after that would be pointless.

BAR: “Yes, this makes me sick. I mean, this guy claims to be a multi-billionaire. And he goes out and raises money from the working class, the hardworking people, the small donors, and tells them, “This is to protect America and take care of the electorate” — he didn’t provide any significant support during the 2022 election. And much of that money appears to be going towards his legal fees.

BAR: “I think the department tends to go much more aggressively after Republicans or allegations of Republican wrongdoing than Democrats. I’ve seen it myself. I’ve been through it. I’ve seen it.

“Now it is not as widespread as it is made out to be. And it’s not automatic. And I think there are still many, many great prosecutors in the department who can check their politics and be fair to anybody, regardless of their politics.

“But I think there are some political actors in the department.”

BAR: “Absolutely. And that’s why I think it’s so ironic that all these people are outraged by the arming that should be because we can’t talk to each other.

“But Trump, like you said, I mean, he’s been very clear on that. I think there is no doubt that he believes that these institutions should be used to persecute his enemies.

BAR: “It is amazing to me that you have read the indictment and his conduct in it. And it’s disgusting, it’s despicable behavior.

“Whether it’s criminal or not, someone who has engaged in this kind of harassment about a process that is fundamental to our system and to our self-government should not be anywhere near the Oval Office.” And for him to attack a prosecutor who’s investigating him with all the epithets and so on, which I don’t understand, is ridiculous.

“Now he’s an aggressive prosecutor. He’s the type of prosecutor, I think, that if he thinks someone has committed a crime, he details it and really tries to make that case. There is no doubt that he is aggressive. But I don’t think he’s a partisan.”

BAR: “My view is that if you think one of two people is going to be president, in other words, there’s no third option, one of two people is going to be president — then at that point you should do everything you can to find out who you think would hurt the most – a little on the side. And that’s the analysis I would do.

BAR: “Look, there are Democrats who I consider honorable people and whose politics I don’t consider extreme and so on.

“But I think Biden has handed over the keys to the kingdom to radical progressives. And in terms of his personal ethics, I think there are some red flags that people should pay attention to. I don’t think he is necessarily morally superior to Trump.

BAR: “Yeah, I mean, yeah. Because I think the Republican Party has a great opportunity. When you look at our states, like Florida, Georgia, Virginia, we have conservative governors who are winning big, growing the party, bringing in people.

“And I think that can be done nationally by any of our candidates, but not by Trump.” Trump has already shown he can’t forge that kind of decisive victory at the national level. He is a three-time loser. And I think he’s clearly going to lose again at the national level.”

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