Former Attorney General William Barr said former President Donald Trump is resorting to “blackmail” to maintain influence in the Republican Party and said he has not yet decided what to do with the FBI’s investigation into Mar-a-Lago and the the recovery of hundreds of pages of classified documents from the government.
In a lengthy interview published Thursday, former New York Times editor Bari Weiss asked Barr why more Republicans didn’t just come out and say Trump’s claims that voter fraud prevented him from winning the 2020 election were, to use Barr’s earlier word, “bullshit.”
“The tactic that Trump is using to exert this control over the Republican Party is blackmail,” Barr said of his former boss. “What other great leader has done this? Telling the party: “If it’s not me, I’ll destroy your election chances by telling my base to stay home. And I’ll sabotage anyone you suggest but me.’ It shows what he’s up to. It’s all about himself.”
Barr recounted Trump’s anger on December 1, 2020, when he learned that his attorney general had given an interview to The Associated Press and told them there was no evidence of widespread election fraud. Trump blasted Barr over the interview, a confrontation that reportedly led Barr to tender his resignation on the spot before being persuaded by White House adviser Pat Cipollone to wait to announce his departure.
While Trump once had nothing but public praise for Barr, his has since turned on his former attorney general, calling him a RINO — short for “Republican in Name Only” — who didn’t “have the guts or the stamina to combat voter fraud. .”
Weiss asked Barr, who also served as attorney general under President George W. Bush, if he underestimated Trump’s “disdain for the truth and indifference to the results of the election.”
“I underestimated how far he would take it. I thought that on December 14th, when I submitted my resignation, all the states had certified the votes. For me, that was it. That was the last stop,” Barr said. “There was no process beyond that to allow him to contest the election. I thought it was safe to leave at that point. I was wrong. I didn’t expect him to take it as far as he did with these very strange legal theories that no one believed.”
Barr told Weiss he felt Trump was the victim of a conspiracy theory alleging he was a possible Russian agent during the 2016 presidential campaign, an allegation Barr said was unfairly used as the basis for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation . This week, the Justice Department released the full memo written for Barr, which advised him not to charge Trump with any crimes related to the 2016 election, including the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
But Barr’s views on Trump’s actions after the 2020 election are decidedly more sour. He didn’t hold back when Weiss asked how he felt watching the riot on January 6, 2021 at the US Capitol.
“I was disgusted and saddened and felt very angry. I felt that all of this had hurt the Republican Party and hurt the administration’s reputation even more than before. I got angry about it. Everyone I knew in management was angry about it. I also felt like it was just a Keystone Cops exercise. There was no real threat to topple the government, as far as I was concerned, it was just a circus,” Barr said, adding that “the whole thing, to me, was a big embarrassment.”
The riot, Barr said, was “a disgraceful episode. … And the president certainly expedited it.”
As for the current legal standoff between Trump and both the Justice Department and the National Archives, Barr said he is waiting to see what information emerges before making a final conclusion about what the administration said hundreds of pages of classified documents have not properly stored at Trump’s Florida estate.
“I think everyone is jumping to conclusions that are premature because there are two important pieces of information that we need to have. First: What is the nature of highly classified information? How sensitive were these documents? Second: What is the evidence, if any, of an active conceit by the president or those around him at Mar-a-Lago to mislead the government?’ Barr said. “Until you answer those two questions, it’s hard for me to say whether or not it was justified. I think the kneejerk people on both sides really have to wait and see what that evidence is.”
A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released Thursday found that after the survey was conducted, Trump’s support among Republicans increased by seven points (to 54%) for those who said he was their top choice for president in 2024. In negative for Trump, 56% of all Americans polled now say Trump should not “be allowed to serve as president again in the future” if he is “found guilty of mishandling highly classified documents.”
For all his misgivings about his former boss and what he saw firsthand at the end of his tenure, however, Barr still seemed reluctant to ditch Trump entirely.
“In the 2024 election, if we have Joe Biden vs. Trump, Kamala Harris vs. Trump, or Gavin Newsom vs. Trump, are you voting for Trump?” Weiss asked the former attorney general.
“Right now, I’d say yes,” Barr said.
But asked for his assessment of Florida Gov. Ron DeSandis, who may have the best chance of any Republican challenger to Trump, Barr made it clear that Trump was not his first choice to become the GOP nominee. Party.
“I don’t know Ron DeSantis that well, but I’ve been impressed with his record at Florida. I’m going to support whoever has the best chance of ousting Trump,” Barr said.