Sunday, September 6, 2020

Barr Peddles Misinformation in CNN One-on-One

          CNN promoted its one-on-one interview with Attorney General William Barr [Sept. 2] as though viewers would learn something from Wolf Blitzer’s questioning of President Trump’s henchman at Main Justice. Instead, despite the veteran newsman’s best efforts, Barr used the appearance to peddle misinformation about election security aimed at underlining Trump’s baseless warnings about likely fraud in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
            A few hours earlier, Trump had made the bizarre suggestion that his supporters in North Carolina should test election security procedures by voting twice in the presidential election—first, by absentee ballot and then on Election Day as well. “If their system’s as good as they say it is,” Trump explained in a briefing with reporters, “then obviously they won’t be able to vote.”
            Blitzer, with 30 years’ experience at CNN, used the transcript of Trump’s remarks to ask Barr whether the president’s plan would amount to a violation of the state’s election laws. Barr, the chief law enforcement officer in an administration deeply concerned about election fraud, ducked Blitzer’s questions by pleading ignorance of North Carolina law.
            In fact, the federal Voting Rights Act prohibits voting more than once in a given election, and most states have separate state laws that prohibit voting more than once in the same election within the state or in different states. The National Conference of State Legislatures lists North Carolina among 31 states with such laws.
            Admittedly, Barr had no forewarning of Trump’s ridiculous idea, so he could justifiably disclaim any knowledge of the president’s specific intentions. Even when shown the transcript, however, Barr ventured no opinion on whether his boss’s suggestion might run afoul of state election law. Instead, Barr appeared to endorse the plan as a permissible method of testing the potential for voter fraud in mail balloting procedures.
            With Blitzer pressing for an answer, Barr became more and more testy, as seen in a ten-minute excerpt posted on YouTube. He claimed that numerous studies—by government bodies and news organization—had showed in recent years that voting by mail is “open to fraud and coercion.” As an example, Blitzer related a completely inaccurate account of a supposed election fraud case in Texas.
In Barr’s telling, “we indicted” – that is, the federal government – a Texas man who “collected” 1,700 ballots and “made them out and voted for the person he wanted to.” Blitzer had no on-the-spot ability to check and correct Barr’s account, but the Washington Post and ABC News corrected Barr within the next two news cycles. In fact, Barr was referring to a local prosecution involving suspected mail-in voting fraud in a city council election in 2017 in Dallas County.
The local prosecutor in the case, Andy Chatham, told the Post that Barr’s account was all wrong. “That’s not what happened at all,” Chatham, now in private practice, said. Chatham went on to note that the Justice Department had never contacted the district attorney’s office about the case. “Unfortunately, it speaks volumes to the credibility of Attorney General Barr when he submits half-truths and alternative facts as clear evidence of voter fraud without having so much as even contacted me or the district attorney’s office for an understanding of the events that actually occurred,” Chatham added.
Queried about the discrepancy, the Justice Department’s spokeswoman Kerri Kupec blamed it all on staff, not on Barr. “Prior to his interview, the Attorney General was provided a memo prepared within the Department that contained an inaccurate summary about the case which he relied upon when using the case as an example,” Kupec told the Post. Pause now to feel sorry for the hapless DOJ lawyer who thought he was giving Barr just what his boss wanted: some really juicy dirt about voter fraud.
Blitzer continued in the interview to ask Barr whether Russia was attempting to interfere in this year’s election as they did four years ago. “It wouldn’t surprise me if Russia tries something again,” Barr answered without going further. When pressed, however, Barr told Blitzer that between Russia and China, he was more concerned about China’s possible meddling in this year’s election. Blitzer asked for an explanation, but Barr said no more. “I’ve seen the intelligence,” he said.
By giving Russia a kind of a pass and demonizing China instead, Barr was serving Trump’s interests: Trump’s base, like Trump himself, worries more about China than about Russia. Whenever asked about Russia, Trump has a one-word answer: “Hoax!”
Blitzer changed subjects again to ask Barr whether he believes there is “systemic racism” in criminal justice in the United States. Barr stopped short of a complete denial, but could not find the word to describe what he acknowledged as fact. “I think there are some situations where statistics suggest that they [Black and White Americans] are treated differently,” he said. “But I don’t think that that’s necessarily racism.”
            The Justice Department might be better able to answer the question if the Trump administration had continued the Obama-era policy of aggressively using its power to investigate local law enforcement agencies for “policies or practices” that entail excessive force or discriminatory harassment. Perversely, Trump now falsely accuses the Obama-Biden administration of having done nothing in regard to police reform when in fact his administration has shut down any federal oversight.

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