Commentary: Barr backs up Trump's scare talk about voting by mail
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Commentary: Barr backs up Trump's scare talk about voting by mail

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U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on May 1, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on May 1, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (Ken Cedeno/Sipa USA/TNS)

Attorney General William P. Barr sat down for an interview with NPR and did little to dispel the impression that he's run his office in ways that benefit President Donald Trump's personal and political interests.

"Morning Edition's" Steve Inskeep asked Barr about a series of incidents in which the Justice Department under his leadership seemed to come to the rescue of Trump associates: the softening of a sentence recommendation for Roger Stone; the move to dismiss the case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn; and the firing of Geoffrey Berman, the interim U.S. attorney in Manhattan who, Inskeep noted, "is believed to be investigating cases involving friends of the president."

Barr blandly replied, "All cases in the Department of Justice are subject to the supervision of the attorney general." True enough, but that doesn't explain why cases involving pals of the president should receive special attention. Barr also insisted that he made sure there was "no political influence" in those cases.

Asked what he would say to voters who see a pattern of Justice Department actions upholding the personal interests of the president, Barr said, "There is no such pattern," only a "media narrative" (a more refined version of Trump's "fake news").

Barr's defense of his involvement in cases of interest to Trump was actually not the most disturbing part of the NPR interview. Even more troubling was the support he offered for Trump's long-standing claim that expanded voting by mail - necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic - will result in massive fraud. On June 22, Trump tweeted: "Because of MAIL-IN BALLOTS, 2020 will be the most RIGGED Election in our nations history - unless this stupidity is ended."

Barr told Inskeep that he "personally" didn't believe an election conducted mainly by mail could be secure, saying he had "heard something" about how 20% of stimulus checks had been "misdirected" in the mail.

Inskeep pressed Barr on his suggestion in a New York Times Magazine interview that mail-in ballots could be counterfeited by foreign powers, asking if the attorney general had any evidence for such a theory. Barr replied: "No, it's obvious." (Election experts disagree. Colorado's chief elections official called the counterfeit scenario "preposterous.")

The Justice Department employs lawyers who are experts on elections and voting rights. It would be interesting to know what they think of Barr's Trump-friendly musings about counterfeit ballots.

The aid and comfort Barr is giving to Trump's scaremongering about voting by mail isn't just unseemly. It could make it easier for Trump to cry fraud if he is defeated in November.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Michael McGough is the Los Angeles Times' senior editorial writer, based in Washington, D.C.

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