Barr-Giuliani rift breaks into the open as President Donald Trump is due to exit
No wonder President Donald Trump, never a fan of hard facts, feels so compelled to deny the voters' verdict a month after Election Day. The size of Joe Biden's win grows bigger each day as a widely watched certification process unfolds state by state. Biden got upward of 6 million more popular votes than Trump — and likely 36 more than the 270 electoral votes needed to become president.
Now with the Trump White House about to disband, William Barr, the U.S. attorney general, and Rudy Giuliani, the president's private attorney, are left peddling different versions of reality in response to this embarrassing defeat.
Barr said this week, with diplomatic caution, what's already widely known in America — that "to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election."
Even this mild statement triggered Giuliani, who apparently considers it his job to gin up and promote presidential conspiracy tales.
In a joint response with lawyer Jenna Ellis, the ex-mayor said: "With the greatest respect to the Attorney General, his opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud."
This kind of public clash so high up the chain of command ordinarily would be taken as a sign of organizational collapse. But this administration, with less than seven weeks left, has been chaotic since Day One. Infighting on the Trump team no longer constitutes a special occasion.
The Giuliani-Barr contrast has been brewing for some time.
Some of it involves a difference in their accepted roles. Barr's statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday was not the first time he deflated an unfounded Trump conspiracy narrative from inside the White House.
Barr also has passed on selling Trump's so-called "Spygate," and the GOP's on-and-off Hillary Clinton "lock-her-up" campaign. Barr never exacted legal vengeance on Trump irritant ex-FBI Director James Comey. No federal allegations or prosecutions materialized from Trump's sloppy assertions.
Giuliani's undisciplined actions, on the other hand, have led him to stir dark suspicions and launch pungent personal attacks. He consulted with accused foreign criminals in trying to put the worst possible light on Biden via his son's former job with a Kyiv energy company. Giuliani meddled in the State Department to discredit personnel who shunned the president's conspiracy narratives.
During Trump's impeachment drama, Giuliani went on television attacking former White House counsel Don McGahn, a longtime friend of Barr's who had told investigators about Trump's efforts to kill the Russia investigation.
Barr disliked Giuliani's performance, The Wall Street Journal reported. He wanted to know why Giuliani was making a spectacle of himself rather than simply declaring victory in the Mueller investigation. Barr suggested to Trump that the ex-mayor knock it off. The resolution was unclear.
Barr also reportedly seethed when a transcript showed that Trump advised Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with both Giuliani and Barr on damaging the Bidens. Trump drew no clear distinction in their roles, and sources told the Journal that Barr did not want to be lumped with Giuliani in this way.
Meanwhile, Giuliani urged Justice Department prosecutors to go easy on a Venezuelan businessman under criminal investigation.
In October of last year, it came out that the ex-mayor got a meeting with Brian Benczkowski, then head of the Justice Department's criminal division, on behalf of an unnamed client. That led to a highly unusual public statement from Barr's subordinates. They said, unprompted, that Benczkowski and other fraud prosecutors wouldn't have held such a meeting with Giuliani if they'd known about a Manhattan U.S. attorney probe of Giuliani's ex-partners that was underway at the time.
If Trump decides on a protective pardon for Giuliani, who so far hasn't been charged with anything, the process normally would involve Barr's office. For the moment, however, the two don't seem to be working in tandem. The tug-of-war between the president's defense-oriented government lawyer and his offense-oriented private lawyer goes on — to what end, and for how long, nobody can be sure.