Attorney General William Barr made a series of false and misleading claims in a contentious interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday.
Barr also made additional claims that have not been proven or were lacking in context. Here are fact checks of some of his remarks.
Russian interference in the 2020 election
Blitzer noted that the intelligence community’s top elections official said that Russia is working to help President Donald Trump get elected, while both China and Iran prefer Democratic opponent Joe Biden to win. Blitzer asked Barr: “First of all, do you accept that Russia is once again interfering in the U.S. presidential election?”
Barr said, “I accept that there is some preliminary activity that suggests that they might try again.”
Facts First: The intelligence official, William R. Evanina, said that Russian interference is happening now, not that Russia “might” try to interfere. In an August statement, Evanina said, “We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.’”
Barr went on to tell Blitzer that he was talking about two kinds of Russian activities: hacking emails to disclose embarrassing documents, and the use of social media. Evanina’s August statement said that Russian social media influence efforts were already underway: “Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.”
On Wednesday, ABC News reported that in July, the Department of Homeland Security withheld an intelligence bulletin warning of a Russian plot to spread misinformation regarding Biden’s mental health.
Mail voting and fraud
Barr said, “Elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion.”
Facts First: This is such an over-generalization, we can call it false: all evidence shows that fraud in mail voting is extremely rare. While a 2020 city council race in New Jersey and a 2018 congressional race in North Carolina were allegedly marred by substantial fraud involving mail ballots, such cases are highly uncommon. Jurisdictions that have long conducted elections primarily by mail, such as the reliably Republican state of Utah, have done so without significant incident.
Foreign countries and interference with mail voting
Blitzer asked Barr what is the basis for his claims that foreign countries could make a large number of fake ballots and send them in without detection, Barr said, “I’m basing that on logic.”
Facts First: Experts on voting say Barr’s “logic” is wrong. They say it would be extraordinarily difficult for a foreign country, or anyone else, to succeed with a counterfeit ballot scheme.
“Mail-in ballots are very hard to duplicate on the fly. Each jurisdiction has their own ballot format, form of paper, and races differ for voters by their respective districts,” Rick Hasen, a University of California professor of law and political science and a prominent expert on election law, wrote on Twitter.
“Ballot envelopes also often contain coding that helps election officials track them. Ballot forms must contain certain information that must be verified, like a signature, identification information, and sometimes witness requirements. These would all have to be faked, and done in a way to escape attention.”
“Of all the ridiculous schemes that have been floated by the President or AG (William) Barr for how mail-in ballot fraud could affect the election, the possibility of a foreign entity swaying election by mailing fraudulent absentee ballots is the most ludicrous,” said Hasen.
Alleged fraud in Texas
Barr cited a supposed incident in Texas to bolster his claims about mail voting and fraud.
“For example, we indicted someone in Texas, 1,700 ballots collected, he – from people who could vote, he made them out and voted for the person he wanted to,” Barr said.
Facts First: CNN could not find an example that fits all the specifics Barr mentioned.
In 2016, Hill County in Texas reported roughly 1,700 more votes than voters in their March GOP primary but an investigation by the Texas Attorney General’s office found “that a series of negligent errors on the part of election officials caused the skewed ballot count,” not fraudulent ballots like Barr suggested.
A situation similar to the one Barr described occurred in Dallas in 2017, but on a much smaller scale. Investigators arrested Miguel Hernandez for illegal voting, believing he was responsible for at least one of the 700 suspicious ballots a Dallas district received for a Texas city council election, all bearing the name of the same witness, “Jose Rodriguez.” In 2018, Hernandez pleaded guilty to improperly returning a marked ballot and was sentenced to serve 6 months in jail.
Jessica Huseman, a CNN analyst in Texas who covers voting rights and election administration for ProPublica, said, “To my knowledge there has never been anyone in Texas charged with fraudulently casting 1,700 ballots.”
Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, later told CNN that Barr’s reference to 1,700 fraudulent ballots in Texas was an error. The attorney general relied on an internal document provided to him before the CNN interview that included the incorrect reference to a Justice Department case involving 1,700 ballots cast fraudulently, even though no such prosecution occurred.
Was Jacob Blake ‘armed’?
Barr said the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August was different than the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis in May, in part because Blake was “armed.”
Facts First: We can’t render a firm verdict at this point, since we haven’t seen all the evidence about the incident, but this claim has not been proven.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice alleged that investigators “recovered a knife from the driver’s side floorboard of Mr. Blake’s vehicle.” Kenosha’s police union went further, alleging that Blake was holding a knife during his interaction with police before he was shot.
Blake’s lawyer Ben Crump, however, has denied this, saying in a statement that “witnesses confirm that he was not in possession of a knife and didn’t threaten officers in any way.” Raysean White, a witness who recorded a video of Blake being shot, said that while he only saw part of the incident, he did not see Blake holding a knife.
Biden and Harris on the Jacob Blake shooting
Barr also said Biden, along with his Vice President pick Sen. Kamala Harris, have called for the police officers involved in the shooting of Jacob Blake to be charged, saying it was inappropriate “for either Vice President Biden or Kamala Harris to call for the charging of a police officer before that matter is reviewed and all the facts are in.”
Facts First: Barr was essentially correct here. Harris did offer the caveat that she was speaking “based on what I’ve seen” of the shooting of Blake, but she did go on to say “it seems that the officer should be charged.” Biden said that “at a minimum” the officers “need to be charged.”
In an interview with NBC on Friday, Harris said “I believe there should be a thorough investigation, and based on what I’ve seen, it seems that the officer should be charged.”
Harris was also asked if there was a scenario that shooting Blake could have been justified. “I don’t see it, but I don’t have all the evidence,” she said.
When a reporter asked Biden on Wednesday about Harris’s remarks, Biden said “I think we should let the judicial system work its way. I do think, at a minimum, [they] need to be charged – the officers.”