WASHINGTON – In the most prominent break from President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the election, Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday that the Justice Department has not found evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the vote.
Barr’s comments in an interview with The Associated Press represented an especially public retreat from Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud by one of the president’s closest allies in the administration.
Barr said federal prosecutors and the FBI had reviewed specific complaints, but they have uncovered no evidence that would change the outcome of the election.
“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told the AP, even as Trump continued to pursue legal challenges to an election he has yet to concede to President-elect Joe Biden.
Barr’s remarks prompted a swift response from Trump’s legal team, led by Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis.
“With all due respect to the Attorney General, there hasn’t been any semblance of a Department of Justice investigation,” Giuliani and Ellis said in a written statement. “We have gathered ample evidence of illegal voting in at least six states, which they have not examined …
“Again, 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,” the Trump attorneys said.
Barr’s remarks were also striking since he had raised the prospect of widespread fraud prior to the election as a result of the increased switch to mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic because voters feared casting their ballots in person.
As recently as a week after the election, with Trump scrambling to contest the victory claimed by Biden, the attorney general issued a two-page memorandum authorizing federal prosecutors to pursue allegations of voting irregularities before election results have been certified. The action bucked decades of Justice Department policy that prohibited interventions that could influence election results.
And it opened the department to claims of partisan interference that could delay the traditional post-election transfer of power, prompting rebukes from outside and inside the department.
The most stinging admonishment, however, came from the Justice Department’s own director of the Election Crimes Branch, who resigned his post shortly after Barr issued the directive.
The Trump campaign team led by Giuliani has alleged a widespread conspiracy by Democrats to dump millions of illegal votes into the system. They have filed multiple lawsuits in battleground states alleging that partisan poll watchers didn’t have a clear enough view at polling sites in some locations and therefore something illegal must have happened.
The claims have been repeatedly dismissed including by Republican judges who have ruled the suits lacked evidence. Local Republicans in some battleground states have followed Trump in making similar claims.
Trump has railed against the election in tweets and interviews, though his own administration has said the 2020 election was the most secure ever.
Trump recently allowed his administration to begin the transition over to Biden despite not conceding the race.
The issues Trump’s campaign and its allies have pointed to are typical in every election: problems with signatures, secrecy envelopes and postal marks on mail-in ballots, as well as the potential for a small number of ballots miscast or lost.
But they’ve also requested federal probes into the claims. Attorney Sidney Powell has spun tales of election systems flipping votes, German servers storing U.S. voting information and election software created in Venezuela “at the direction of Hugo Chavez” – the late Venezuelan president who died in 2013.
Powell has since been removed from the legal team after an interview she gave where she threatened to “blow up” Georgia with a “biblical” court filing.
Barr didn’t name Powell specifically but said: “There’s been one assertion that would be systemic fraud and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results.
And the DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that,” Barr said.
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He said people were confusing the use of the federal criminal justice system with allegations that should be made in civil lawsuits. He said such a remedy for those complaints would be a top-down audit conducted by state or local officials, not the U.S. Justice Department.
“There’s a growing tendency to use the criminal justice system as sort of a default fix-all, and people don’t like something they want the Department of Justice to come in and ‘investigate,’” Barr said.
He said first of all there must be a basis to believe there is a crime to investigate.
“Most claims of fraud are very particularized to a particular set of circumstances or actors or conduct.
“They are not systemic allegations and those have been run down; they are being run down,” Barr said. “Some have been broad and potentially cover a few thousand votes. They have been followed up on.”
USA Today/ Contributing: Associated Press