In the weeks immediately following Election Night in November, Rudy Giuliani repeatedly tried to call then-Attorney General William Barr, in an effort to ferry the Trump legal team’s unsubstantiated and conspiratorial election-fraud allegations straight to the highest ranks of the Justice Department. Unfortunately for then-President Donald Trump and his personal attorney, Barr consistently declined to return Giuliani’s phone calls, according to three people familiar with Team Trump’s outreach.
“Rudy let President Trump know [at the time] that Barr was not being helpful or responsive,” one of these sources recalled. “But it didn’t surprise that many people around the president that… Barr wasn’t stepping up.”
It is true that as Trump and the GOP’s crusade to overturn the 2020 outcome kicked into high gear, Barr preferred having as little to do with it as possible. Starting as early as the few days immediately following Election Night, Trump kept fuming behind closed doors that Barr and the Department of Justice weren’t quickly and aggressively intervening to keep Trump in power.
However, Barr’s post-election campaign to paint himself as an obstacle to Trump associates’ attempts to throw out President Joe Biden’s legitimate and clear victory has conveniently left out the groundwork the former attorney general laid for many of the conspiracy theories pushed by prominent Trump allies.
In early November, Barr also tried to have it both ways. The then-AG issued a memo warning prosecutors not to chase “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims,” but the directive broke a longstanding departmental norm not to launch public investigations before an election is certified. Hours after receiving the memo, one prosecutor resigned in protest.
Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment on this story. Barr could not be reached for comment, either.
And long before pillow magnate Mike Lindell and Trumpist attorney Sidney Powell spread bogus theories about Chinese hackers or other foreign actors swinging the election away from Trump, Barr was there to back up Trump’s narrative about the presidential election that hadn’t even happened yet. When asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in September 2020 who “the most assertive, the most aggressive” country seeking to interfere in American elections was, Barr singled out China “because I’ve seen the intelligence.”
It’s unclear what intelligence Barr was referring to but a post-election intelligence community assessment declassified in March concluded that China “did not deploy interference efforts” to swing the election in any direction and that “Beijing probably judged risk of interference was not worth the reward.”
Nor has Barr’s claim that allowing mail-in ballots amounted to “playing with fire” and was “very open to fraud and coercion” panned out. Voting by mail, Barr predicted, would undermine “confidence in the results of the election and the legitimacy of the government.”
After the election, Barr himself admitted, “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” In fact, a Washington Post analysis found that the number of suspected voter fraud instances amounted to just .0025 percent of the national vote.
That admission forced tensions between Giuliani and Barr over the election—which had been mostly private—into the fore. In a December statement responding to Barr’s dismissal of fraud claims, Trump attorneys Giuliani and Jenna Ellis claimed that Barr’s “opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud.” Under Barr, the two complained, "there hasn't been any semblance of a Department of Justice investigation" and supposed voter fraud witnesses in contact with the Trump campaign legal team were not contacted by any Justice Department officials.
Barr’s efforts to distance the Justice Department from Giuliani’s fraud claims were aided by a feeling of unease among Republicans about the former New York mayor’s ability to make a convincing case of widespread voter fraud following public debacles like his infamous Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference and his November speech beside Sidney Powell alleging voter fraud while leaking hair dye.
But the tensions have flared up again in the wake of Barr’s reappearance in interviews.
Barr granted author and ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl a series of interviews over the past few months for a bombshell article in which the former attorney general referred to Trump’s voter fraud claims as “all bullshit” and highlighted comments from Mitch McConnell that Barr was the only person who could “inject some reality into” Trump’s wild claims about the election.
The Barr interview infuriated the twice-impeached former U.S. president and a familiar cast of MAGA loyalists, with Trump releasing a statement this week once again trashing his onetime top federal law-enforcer, complaining that “spineless RINOs like Bill Barr and Mitch McConnell did nothing” to keep Trump in the White House.
“It became immediately obvious to the legal team that those who President Trump considered ‘establishment,’ including Barr, had absolutely no interest in getting to the truth, which was a complete disservice to the American people. Barr’s narrative is not the whole story,” Jenna Ellis, Trump’s former senior legal adviser during the 2020 campaign and the post-election fight, told The Daily Beast on Monday.