Bill Barr’s interview on CNN was a train wreck

Attorney General Bill Barr went on CNN on Wednesday — and quickly demonstrated why he rarely strays outside the friendly confines of Fox News for TV interviews.

Barr’s interview with Wolf Blitzer began with the attorney general making unsubstantiated claims about circumstances surrounding the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It wound down with him going to desperate lengths to substantiate Trump’s baseless, politically motivated claims about how mail-in voting will result in a rigged election. On more than one occasion, Blitzer seemed surprised at how unpersuasive Barr’s arguments were.

The whole spectacle demonstrated how, under Trump, the office of the nation’s top law enforcement official has been diminished to something akin to a campaign surrogate for the president.

Barr’s comments about Jacob Blake and Black Lives Matter revealed how unserious he is about racial unrest

The half-hour interview got off to a bad start when Barr presented a flawed argument to try and justify the August 23 shooting of Blake — which sparked protests, looting, and right-wing vigilante violence in Kenosha — then stuck with his case even after Blitzer corrected him.

Barr claimed that Blake was “armed” — the implication being that officers had good reason to shoot him seven times in the back. In fact, while there was a knife in Blake’s car, no evidence has emerged that he brandished it at police officers.

“His family says he wasn’t armed,” Blitzer pointed out to Barr. “There may have been a knife in the car, but he wasn’t armed when he was shot. That’s what his family and his lawyer said.”

But Barr’s narrative seemed impervious to facts.

“Well, I stated what I believe to be [the case],” he replied.

From there, Barr made an unpersuasive case that systemic racism is not a factor in police violence against Black men like Blake, insisting that “the narrative that the police are on some, you know, epidemic of shooting unarmed Black men is simply a false narrative and also the narrative that that’s based on race.”

In reality, a number of studies have found that Black Americans are far more likely to be police shooting victims than whites. For instance, a Washington Post analysis of data about police shootings found that while Black Americans represent 13 percent of the US population, 36 percent of unarmed officer shooting victims are Black.

Barr wouldn’t even acknowledge that voting twice is a crime

If Barr’s ignorance about the reality of racial disparities in the country was galling, his comments about voting by mail were arguably even worse.

Barr’s interview with Blitzer came hours after Trump encouraged his supporters in North Carolina to vote twice to test the state’s mail-in voting system — comments widely interpreted as encouraging felony voter fraud.

“It sounds like he’s encouraging people to break the law and try to vote twice,” Blitzer told Barr. But Barr wasn’t willing to acknowledge the sky is blue.

“I don’t know what the law in the particular state says,” he replied, prompting Blitzer to point out the obvious fact that “you can’t vote twice.”

“I don’t know what the law in the particular state says,” Barr retorted. “If you know what he’s saying, why are you asking me if you’re saying.”

“You’re the attorney general of the United States,” Blitzer said.

Trump’s remarks were meant to create the impression that mail voting is ripe for fraud. In fact, the experience of a number of states that already conduct elections almost entirely by mail demonstrates that’s it’s relatively safe not only in terms of preventing fraud, but also in terms of allowing people to safely exercise their right to vote amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Alluding to this disconnect between reality and Trump’s rhetoric, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent interpreted Barr’s defense of Trump as “telegraphing his willingness to legitimize Trump’s eventual effort to try to invalidate untold numbers of mail ballots, which Trump has already told us is coming.”

When Blitzer pressed Barr to cite evidence that mail voting is as ripe for fraud as Trump says it is, Barr couldn’t. Asked whether he had seen any evidence substantiating his own claims that a foreign government would counterfeit ballots to sway the election, Barr instead resorted to saying these concerns are “a matter of logic.” Blitzer seemed taken aback at the weakness of Barr’s case.

Barr was later unable to answer straightforward questions from Blitzer about how many people Barr’s DOJ has indicted for voter fraud. And the interview concluded with Barr making an extremely unpersuasive case that China is a bigger threat to American elections than Russia — comments at odds with the findings of the intelligence community but consistent with Trump’s desire to downplay Russian interference.

“I’m not gonna discuss that,” Barr said, pressed by Blitzer to substantiate his claim. “I’m not gonna get into that.”

The attorney general has been reduced to something akin to a fixer for the president

It’s not a surprise that Barr is using his office to do Trump’s bidding — he’s been doing that since the earliest weeks of his tenure early last year when he got ahead of the Mueller report by releasing a misleading summary of its key findings aimed at exonerating the president.

As my colleague Andrew Prokop explained, the DOJ may not have become “a well-oiled machine that does President Trump’s bidding immediately at all times,” but Barr has proven he’s “unafraid of criticism that he’s acting politically to help the president or his friends”:

Barely a month after Barr was sworn in, he released his misleading spin on special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings a month before the report itself. His Justice Department decided Trump’s request that Ukraine’s president investigate the Bidens wasn’t worth investigating, and other federal investigations into Trumpworld appear to have fizzled out. Barr personally instructed prosecutors to weaken their sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, and he is trying to have the case against Michael Flynn dismissed entirely. He instituted a new rule requiring his personal approval for any investigations into presidential candidates or campaigns. And he’s attempted to place loyalists into key US attorney posts, such as the Southern District of New York and the District of Columbia.

Wednesday was the case in point. Rudimentary questioning from Blitzer revealed that he’s unfamiliar with basic facts surrounding key cases, the reality of racial disparities in America, and apparently even the fact that it’s illegal to vote twice in America. And he seems more intent on repeating his boss’s talking points than he does in getting up to speed.

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