Attorney General William Barr, in a wide-ranging interview on CNN Wednesday, condemned states using mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic, and didn’t object to President Donald Trump seemingly implying that voters should cast two ballots this November.
“This is playing with fire. We’re a very closely divided country here,” Barr said on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” of changes this year where states are allowing more voting by mail because of the pandemic.
“People trying to change the rules to this, to this methodology – which, as a matter of logic, is very open to fraud and coercion – is reckless and dangerous and people are playing with fire,” Barr added.
These comments contradict the views of bipartisan election officials and a wide array of voting experts who say voting-by-mail is a safe option with protections in place to prevent systematic fraud. There is no widespread fraud in US elections, even in states with a history of heavy mail-in voting, running directly counter to Barr’s assertions.
Barr’s comments seem to play into Trump’s attempts to stoke fear and add chaos to the coming election. Several states have expanded their mail-in voting options this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the Trump campaign and Republican Party are fighting more widespread options for voters.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump suggested in North Carolina that voters cast their ballots twice, a situation that in fact could encourage election problems.
“Well, they’ll go out and they’ll go vote, and they’re going to have to go and check their vote by going to the poll and voting that way, because if it tabulates then they won’t be able to do that,” Trump said. “So let them send it in, and let them go vote, and if the system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote. If it isn’t tabulated they won’t be able to vote, so that’s the way it is. And that’s what they should do.”
How to vote
Wolf asked Barr if Trump was encouraging people to commit a crime by voting twice.
“I don’t know exactly what he was saying, but it seems to me what he’s saying is, he’s trying to make the point that the ability to monitor this system is not good,” Barr said. “And if it was so good, if you tried to vote a second time you would be caught if you voted in person.”
When Blitzer stated that voting twice that way would be illegal, Barr said he didn’t know particular state laws.
The attorney general also doubled down on a conspiracy theory that foreign countries will print large numbers of counterfeit absentee ballots and send them to voters. Experts say this scheme would be nearly impossible to pull off and is not a serious threat to the election, though Barr’s repeated promotion of this theory has given Trump more fuel to continue questioning the legitimacy of mail-in voting.
Asked what evidence he has to support this theory, Barr said he was “basing it on logic.”
Senior US intelligence officials, tasked with protecting the 2020 election, recently said that there is no evidence that foreign countries are interfering with the mail-in voting process in this country.
Bipartisan officials across the country have expanded mail-in voting this year, and public health authorities are encouraging it as a pandemic-friendly way to vote. Only nine states and the District of Columbia automatically mail ballots to all registered voters – which is the specific system that Trump and Barr say poses the greatest risk for fraud.
China and Russian interference
Barr downplayed Russia’s well-documented attempts to help Trump in presidential elections, including in this election cycle, while pointing his finger more at China.
“I accept that there is some preliminary activity that suggests that they might try again,” Barr said of Russia. “It wouldn’t surprise me if Russia tries something again of the same general genre before.”
US intelligence officials and the Senate Intelligence Committee have made bolder assertions warning of the threat Russia poses this year after it hacked the Democrats in 2016 and ran social media influence operations during both the 2016 and 2018 elections.
But Barr said he believed China may be more aggressive than Russia in trying to interfere in the 2020 election.
“I believe it’s China,” he said. When Blitzer him pressed him on his reasoning and what he’s seen from China, Barr said, “because I’ve seen the intelligence and that’s what I’ve concluded.” The attorney general declined to give more detail.
A month ago, US intelligence officials briefed members of Congress and the presidential campaigns on how Russia is behind ongoing disinformation campaigns to hurt Democratic nominee Joe Biden, while China and Iran favor hurting Trump. The intentions of Moscow have been politically divisive even though they are well-established by both the intelligence community, the Mueller investigation and the Senate’s findings. Both Republicans and Democrats agree that foreign governments have tried to sow discord in American democracy.
“I accept that Russia made some efforts to influence the election” in 2016, Barr said on Wednesday.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen and Christina Carrega contributed to this report.