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Sorry, Mr. President: Barr says election fraud claims add up to bupkis

Attorney General William Barr with President Donald Trump

Attorney General William Barr with President Donald Trump on Sept. 1. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Mandel Ngan

AG sees no 'rigged' case

For most of the past two years, Donald Trump believed with reason that he'd found in William Barr an attorney general who would go the extra mile to protect his interests. But Barr on Tuesday drew a line on sharing Trump's fantasies and declined to put the nation's top law enforcement agency behind the president's baseless claims that the election was rigged against him.

Barr told The Associated Press in an interview that the Justice Department has uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election, which Joe Biden won. Barr said U.S. attorneys and FBI agents have been working to follow up specific complaints and information they’ve received, but "to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election." The attorney general said the investigation included a look into conspiracy theories advanced by Trump and his lawyers of "rigged" voting machines, and it found nothing to substantiate such claims.

Barr's assessment did not play well in Trumpworld. The president's election lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis said the AG didn't try hard enough. "With all due respect to the Attorney General, there hasn’t been any semblance" of an investigation into the president’s complaints, they said. Courtroom pleadings by Giuliani and other Trump attorneys have been found to be lacking the evidence of massive fraud that they've claimed in other forums to possess.

Others in the Trump sycophants' chorus aired suspicions that Barr had become a fellow traveler in a plot against the president. "He’s either a liar or a fool or both. He may be — perhaps compromised," said Fox Business host Lou Dobbs. "He may be simply unprincipled. Or he may be personally distraught or ill." Dobbs, who Trump regards as an adviser, suggested that Barr has "appeared to join in with the radical Dems and the deep state and the resistance."

Barr may be in for a difficult time for however many days he has left in an administration also coming to an end. The president remained Twitter-silent about Barr as of Tuesday evening. But Trump two weeks ago fired cybersecurity chief Chris Krebs, the last senior official who attested to the fairness of the election result, and a member of Trump's legal team, Joe diGenova, said Monday that Krebs "should be drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot." (DiGenova said Tuesday that he spoke "in jest." White House communications director Alyssa Farah told CNN: "That statement was wildly inappropriate." But diGenova remains with the Trump campaign.)

The attorney general had a consolation prize of sorts for Trump. Barr revealed in the AP interview Tuesday that he appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham in October as a special counsel, giving the prosecutor the authority to continue to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe and making it difficult to fire him in case of a Biden win. Barr said Durham's inquiry has been narrowing to focus more on the conduct of FBI agents who worked on the Russia investigation.

But Trump may be more irritated then assuaged, especially by Barr's decision not to reveal the appointment of special counsel before the election. The president in October openly agitated for results from the Durham investigation and for Justice Department action against Biden and assorted foes. Axios reported Tuesday night that Trump and White House aides believe Durham has already completed a report, and they are pressuring Barr to release it immediately.

Janison: Loser's jackpot

Defeat does not threaten to make an honest or humble man of Trump, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. In his final weeks in the White House, Trump's inner circle has been using his hollow assertions of voter fraud to raise piles of money. One of his post-defeat emails appealed for donations to "Stop the Left from trying to steal the Election." Another, signed by the president's son Eric Trump, asks for $5 "IMMEDIATELY to support the official Election Defense Fund."

The fine print shows there are other plans for the whopping sum raised so far: about $170 million. Much of the cash loosened from the pockets of the MAGA faithful could end up in an account for his post-White House political activities.

That's just one project that keeps the president's men busy before he departs. Another is pardons and commutations, and one reportedly under discussion would give Giuliani cover from any potential federal charges.

Everyone knows the president is not big on paying bills or fees or picking up others' expenses. But he is allowed to issue free passes for legal consequences as casually as a municipal official might give a parking placard to a campaign contributor.

The pardonpalooza gang

The New York Times reported — and ABC News said it confirmed — that Giuliani discussed with Trump the possibility of a pardon for the president's personal lawyer as a prophylactic against potential criminal exposure.

Giuliani was under investigation as recently as this summer by federal prosecutors in Manhattan for business dealings in Ukraine and his role in ousting the American ambassador there, a plot that was at the heart of Trump's impeachment, the Times noted. Giuliani tweeted that the Times story was "fake news." Then again, given his cratered credibility promoting unsupported and unsupportable election-rigging claims, not to mention his notorious 2018 declaration that "truth isn't truth," it's worth staying tuned.

In the meantime, Giuliani, in the cause of trying to overturn the election results, has felonious company among past and possible future recipients of Trump pardons and commutations: Roger Stone, convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering, and Mike Flynn, who confessed to lying to the FBI, are making the rounds on right-wing media. Also speaking up for Trump after receiving his pardon or commutation: former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik (convicted of tax fraud and obstruction), far-right commentator Dinesh D'Souza (illegal campaign contributions), former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (corruption) and former media mogul Conrad Black (fraud).

A prospect for a future pardon is Steve Bannon, thrown out of the White House in 2017 but back in the president's good graces as a ferocious advocate for Trumpism. Bannon was indicted in August on federal charges of duping donors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in a campaign purportedly aimed at supporting Trump's border wall. Trump dropped a hint in an October tweet: "I think Steve will be just fine." Last but not least, Trump could issue pardons to his family, which he apparently can do, and himself, which would be on shakier legal ground.

Going to extremes

As frustration on Trump's side festers, the threats pour out. Gabriel Sterling, a top Republican official in the Georgia secretary of state’s office, called on Trump and the state's two GOP U.S. senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, to cool their tone after a 20-year-old local tech worker for Dominion Voting Systems was confronted with a noose and told he should be hung for treason.

"Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia," Sterling said Tuesday. "Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone is going to get hurt, someone is going to get shot, someone is going to get killed. And it’s not right." (See transcript and video of Sterling's news conference.)

Trump last week called Sterling's boss, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, also a Republican, an "enemy of the people." People have been driving in caravans past Raffensperger’s home, have come onto his property and have sent sexualized threats to his wife’s cellphone, said Sterling. Trump responded by pouring more fuel on the fire Tuesday night with a tweet accusing Raffensperger and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of covering up "massive voter fraud."

Lin Wood, a lawyer who claims Trump won in a landslide, tweeted Tuesday that the president "should declare martial law." Wood, who has partnered with lawyer Sidney Powell as they file suits claiming various election frauds, also is associated with Flynn. All three echo QAnon conspiracy cult theories. Powell was briefly on Trump's official election legal team.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, who once promoted the "birther" canard about former President Barack Obama, has made the rounds on far-right media, falsely claiming that five U.S. special forces soldiers were killed while seizing computer servers in Germany as part of a CIA operation after the election. He called on Trump to suspend the Electoral College and Congress, order mass arrests and hold military tribunals for "treason."

Biden: Help is on the way

President-elect Biden on Tuesday introduced top advisers he says will help his administration rebuild an economy hammered by the coronavirus pandemic, declaring, "I know times are tough, but I want you to know that help is on the way," The Associated Press reported.

"From the most unequal economic and job crisis in modern history, we can build a new American economy that works for all Americans, not just some," Biden said during a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, where he has been running his transition. He wore a walking boot on the foot that sustained hairline fractures after playing with one of his dogs over the weekend.

"We will be an institution that wakes up every morning thinking about you," said Janet Yellen, Biden's nominee for treasury secretary. "Your jobs, your paychecks, your struggles, your hopes, your dignity and your limitless potential." (See Biden's official picks so far.)

The AP also reported that Biden is considering former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as transportation secretary. Emanuel, who also served as a top aide to Obama and former President Bill Clinton, is a somewhat divisive figure in Democratic Party politics. Progressive leaders, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens), have been especially vocal in criticizing the prospect of Emanuel joining Biden's Cabinet because of how he handled a Chicago police shooting of a Black teenager.

Vaccines: Whose arms first?

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially voted Tuesday to recommend that health care workers and long-term care facility residents should be the first Americans to receive the eventual COVID-19 vaccines.

The two groups account for about 24 million people of the U.S. population, about 330 million. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet again at some point to decide who should be next in line.

Later this month, the Food and Drug Administration will consider authorizing emergency use of two vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna. Vice President Mike Pence told governors during a Monday conference call with the White House coronavirus task force that some doses of vaccine could begin to be distributed as early as mid-December.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • The White House is forging ahead with plans for at least 25 indoor holiday parties this month despite the ongoing surge in coronavirus cases. Each event, including a congressional ball on Dec. 10, will include more than 50 guests and could risk the health of White House staff members and others who work at the parties, The Washington Post reported.
  • Trump indicated to a group of party guests mostly from the Republican National Committee on Tuesday night that he's got 2024 on his mind: "It’s been an amazing four years. We are trying to do another four years. Otherwise, I’ll see you in four years."
  • Brad Parscale, dumped as Trump's campaign chief in July, told Fox News that Trump would have won if he displayed more empathy about the pandemic. "People were scared," Parscale said. "I think if he would have been publicly empathetic, he would have won by a landslide there. He could have leaned into it instead of run away from it."
  • Trump has given some of his most hawkish administration officials, particularly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a green light to aggressively squeeze and punish Iran in the waning weeks of his presidency, The Daily Beast reports. His main caveat: Don't risk "World War III."
  • While his dad looks to torch Georgia Republicans who won't abide his election fraud claims, Donald Trump Jr. is trying to help Perdue and Loeffler in their January runoff contests. He cut a radio ad saying the U.S. Senate majority and his father's accomplishments are on the line, Axios reports.
  • The Trump administration purge of the Pentagon resumed with the ouster Monday of the official overseeing the military’s efforts to combat the Islamic State group. Christopher P. Maier was told by a White House appointee that the United States had won that war and that his office had been disbanded, The New York Times reported.
  • A federal judge on Tuesday struck down two Trump administration rules designed to drastically curtail the number of visas issued each year to skilled foreign workers.

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