Bill Barr Calls B.S. on Trump

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Sonari GLINTON: It’s been a long time since a broadcast from Capitol Hill was required viewing for anyone. But speaking for myself, the ongoing hearings by the House Select Committee on January six have become must watch TV. I found myself glued to the livestream of the latest hearing on Monday.

Speaker 2: All these characters, these people who who can lay out in very clear and precise and really compelling detail, basically the plot to try to overturn the last election by President Donald Trump.

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Sonari GLINTON: Jeremy Stahl is a senior editor for Slate and he’s been watching the January six hearings as well.

Speaker 2: They’ve definitely made these hearings much more entertaining, interesting, compelling and tighter, shorter for mass consumption. You know, there were two previous Trump impeachments, and those hearings were completely different.

Sonari GLINTON: These hearings are designed to be a show. In addition to characters, we’ve got testimony that’s being packaged to accentuate quotable lines, gossip, cursing. People are cursing y’all on C-SPAN. Can you even handle it?

Speaker 2: There’s, you know, bombshells like that that are new, that are actual information, that are helpful for people to understand what happened that day. And then there’s lots of just filling in the details of things that we already knew.

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Sonari GLINTON: But these hearings are not merely a show. And the members of the House Select Committee and their staff are trying to do more than remind you how serious January 6th was.

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Speaker 2: They’re showing who was involved and how they’re showing it. Donald Trump was given this amount of information from this amount of lawyers telling him all of his fraud claims were wrong. His own people. His own people. The Department of Justice, his own personal lawyers, his own White House people were telling him his fraud claims were wrong. He used those anyway to try to remain in power illegally.

Sonari GLINTON: Today on the show, are you not entertained? Well, then, take heart. The January 6th hearings are designed to do more than entertain you. I’m Sonari GLINTON, filling in for Mary Harris. You’re listening to What Next? Stick around.

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Sonari GLINTON: The January six hearings are making a couple of different arguments to a couple of different audiences. There’s one argument that the January six attack on the Capitol was serious. That argument is being made to the general viewing public. And then there is another argument that President Donald Trump and his top enablers acted criminally in their attempt to overturn the results of a presidential election. The audience for that second argument, well, it’s not you and me. It’s a Justice Department official, maybe even a state prosecutor. Jeremy Stahl called a bunch of Justice Department alumni and prosecutors to ask them if you’re considering criminal charges against Trump world. What kind of evidence do you need to see at these hearings?

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Speaker 2: So the thing that’s come up with prosecutors again and again is this notion of demonstrating that President Trump knew and was told information that showed that his fraud claims were completely bogus. And he was told again and again, and he was told explicitly about explicit claims. And I.

Speaker 3: Said something to the effect of, sir, we’ve done dozens of investigations.

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Speaker 2: Hundreds of interviews. Part of the most compelling testimony on Monday came from this acting deputy Attorney General, Richard Donoghue, this guy who came in and stepped up into the number two role after William Barr, the attorney general, resigned. And what he said was, in essence, I would go to the effort of having the Department of Justice investigate each ridiculed, no matter how ridiculous the claim was, each ridiculous claim. Then President Trump would ask me about it face to face, and I would tell him, Well, we looked into that. And it turns out, no, there was not a 68% error rate in this county in Michigan that you’re pointing to, where there was like a .00 1% error rate. And Trump would respond, well, what about the others? Not even what about the next one? What about the others? And you would just have to go through a list with him rebutting every single one. He said, okay.

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Speaker 3: Fine, but what about the others? There were so many these allegations that when you gave him a very direct answer on one of them, he wouldn’t fight us on it, but he would move to another allegation.

Speaker 2: The point is that that that list was limitless. There were a limitless number of bogus cooked up conspiracy theories. And Donald Trump did not want to be convinced. He did not want to know the truth. And what prosecutors have told me is there’s a specific jury instruction for a situation like that. It’s called willful blindness. Say, like a person who’s being asked to be a drug mule or something like that never looks in the bag to confirm that he is or he or she is smuggling drugs or something like that. That’s not a defense. The person can’t say, I didn’t know there were drugs in that bag, that that person was willfully blind to the fact that what they were doing was a crime and they can be prosecuted. And there’s a very specific jury instruction on that charge. And multiple people have made that analogy to me, saying that what Trump was doing by refusing to see the reality was what this willful blindness jury instruction was made for.

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Sonari GLINTON: You know what? The way you describe it, right, when you talk about jury instructions and prosecutors, it seems like what is being laid out as is sort of a practice trial or a rehearsal trial. Right. This is this is this feels like, you know, we’re using the theater analogy. This, you know, you seem to be saying that this is a dress rehearsal for potential criminal case.

Speaker 2: The thing is, we don’t know if that case will actually ever come. And that’s the other thing that these prosecutors will tell me when I talk to them, like, yes, they’re demonstrating exactly what the case could and should and might look like. But the people at the top of DOJ have been incredibly cautious. And even the people who are watching this from afar seem to understand that the people in charge may continue to be cautious.

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Sonari GLINTON: Well, I mean, one of the things we don’t have, you know, this was, you know, an episode of Law and Order. It’s all the D.A. it’s all McCoy. We don’t see what the. The defense is, right?

Speaker 2: That’s absolutely right. The former president put out a 12 page, just rambling, discursive, I would call it disturbing statement. Former President Trump lashing out today after last night’s primetime hearing. Part of that, the one part that did strike me was him complaining, well, I don’t get to have a defense here. This is this is the case against me. But I’m not getting to defend myself. Well, if there is an actual trial, he’ll get to put on a defense.

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Sonari GLINTON: You know, if we’re going to you know, as we look at this, there seems to be like a clear star in these hearings, someone who’s like both brought interesting information. And the way he’s performed. Right is the former attorney general, Bill Barr. Help me understand what he did and why it was so important.

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Speaker 2: The bar testimony has been interesting and compelling because he’s the highest public official in the Trump administration to participate and he gave a deposition. This is not live testimony. He’s not the most charismatic figure to begin with. So it’s not like he’s a star in his own right. But the information that he has and the way he’s talking about it is what makes it interesting.

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Speaker 4: There was an avalanche of all these allegations of fraud that built up over a number of days. And it was like playing whack a mole because something would come out.

Speaker 2: So Bill Barr testified he did this very, you know, dramatic description of how he told Trump to his face that his fraud claims were B.S..

Speaker 4: Completely bogus and silly and usually based on complete misinformation.

Speaker 2: And he’s like repeating the word B.S. in an effort to be dramatic and loud and show how strong he was against this at the time.

Speaker 4: I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bullshit.

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Speaker 2: And and that’s somewhat interesting. But what’s more interesting is he’s describing the conversations he had with the president. He’s laying out exactly what he told the president. He’s laying out exactly how he responded and saw Trump’s behavior.

Speaker 4: There was never an indication of. Interest in what the actual facts are.

Speaker 2: He laid out the timeline of how he told Trump and what he told Trump about why those claims were wrong. He said, basically, Trump didn’t want to know the truth. What he’s describing is somebody who is willfully blind to reality for their own purposes.

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Speaker 4: You know, I didn’t want to be a part of it. And that’s one of the reasons that went into me deciding to leave when I did.

Sonari GLINTON: You know, this seems actually extraordinary to form a question this way about a two time attorney general. But does Bill Barr have a credibility issue in these hearings?

Speaker 2: I have written extensively. It’s like a lot and many, many words, maybe too many words about all the ways that all the problems with Bill Barr’s credibility while he was attorney general, he was explicitly brought in to be attorney general, to prepare and to squash essentially the Mueller report and the report about Russia’s work corrupting the 2016 election and President Trump’s efforts to block that investigation. He mischaracterized, according to Robert Mueller himself, he mischaracterized that report. He was the face of the administration’s presentation attempting to basically deceive the public about that report. There’s many other things in between.

Speaker 2: But then what I think is most relevant to this committee is that prior to the 2020 election, Bill Barr went out of his way to give public interviews where he questioned the validity of mail in ballots and said that there a period of greater likelihood of fraud. And this was relevant because Donald Trump explicitly pushed his supporters to vote in person and not by mail. He explicitly discredited mail in voting, and Bill Barr carried water for that effort prior to the election. So you’re 100% right, Sonari, that he’s got a credibility problem, just to say the least.

Speaker 2: At the same time, so did John Dean during Watergate, was an attorney in the Nixon administration and was the key witness against Richard Nixon. So the people who are going to be in the room, who are going to know the things. They’re also going to be the people who had previously done things that we would question to get to that point. And I think that’s Bill Barr to a tee.

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Sonari GLINTON: We’re going to take a quick break here. I’m Sonari GLINTON, filling in for Mary Harris. We’ll be right back.

Sonari GLINTON: You know, in every tragedy, there’s often moments of comedy. Let’s turn to the comedy parts of these hearings. Who are some of the key witness who have added to the mound of evidence that Trump either knew he was lying or was delusional, or, as you say, willfully blind to the facts who were the, you know, sort of the top contenders.

Speaker 2: So you had you had a bunker Trump come in and say it’s not really a moment of levity, per se. But it is interesting and funny that President Trump’s own daughter said, yeah, I believed William Barr. I believe the attorney general when he said that there was no fraud. And I didn’t believe my own father when he said there was fraud.

Speaker 4: How did that affect your perspective about the election when Attorney General Barr made that statement? It affected my perspective. I respect Attorney General Barr. So I. Accepted what he was saying.

Speaker 2: The big Monday episode of Levity came from this former campaign aide of Trump’s Jason Miller, who testified the extent to which Giuliani was drunk when on election night he pushed the president to declare preemptive victory before the votes were actually counted in.

Speaker 4: The mayor was definitely intoxicated, but I do not know his level of intoxication when he spoke with the president, for example. I mean, I spoke to the president spoke to the president several times that night. Mayor Giuliani was saying, we want it. You’re stealing it from us. We’re all the votes come from. We need to go say that we won. And essentially, to anyone who didn’t agree with that position was being weak.

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Speaker 2: You also had Eric Hirschmann, who is this attorney for Trump. He did not hold back in describing how like crazy this stuff was and how he told the people who were pushing it on him. This stuff is crazy what they were proposing. I thought I was nuts.

Speaker 4: You know, the theory was also completely nuts.

Speaker 2: And then you had Bill Stepien who said, you know, he was pushed out because he didn’t want to go along with these fraud claims. Was the had been the head of the Trump campaign up until after Election Day and said, you know, we told Trump that there was a 5 to 10% chance that he could actually pull out a recount victory in the days after the election itself. And he said, you know, he was very proud after he was kicked out to have been considered to be on Team Normal.

Speaker 4: We called them kind of my team and his team. I didn’t mind being characterized as being part of team normal as as reporters kind of started to do around that point in time.

Speaker 2: Team normal versus team drunk. Rudy, basically is what you had. And, you know, that’s kind of funny. That is kind of funny.

Sonari GLINTON: Well, you do think it’s important that these hearings are kind of revealing the Keystone cop nature, the bumbling ness of some of Trump’s advisers, you know, doing things that. You know, a year and change later. Are genuinely laughable.

Speaker 2: Yeah. My colleague Dahlia Lithwick has written very eloquently and correctly about how part of the description of all of this is absurd by some of these figures is to polish their own reputations, because they were clearly they were they weren’t part of this effort to steal an election, but they were part of Donald Trump’s apparatus for everything else that he did.

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Speaker 2: And so part of this is laundering, saying, oh, this was just too ridiculous, and part of it is downplaying the threat that it actually was.

Speaker 2: Part of it is downplaying the future threat, because you still have many, many people who are convinced in this big lie about voter fraud and who are now claiming or at least going to be campaigning for secretary of state positions in 2022, governor positions in 2022 of their positions of power election boards that will hold sway and control what happens in 2024 and whether or not a replay of this is possible and a replay of this effort to overturn an American election could actually succeed next time.

Sonari GLINTON: I mean, you know, in Dolly’s writing, she she says that, you know, if we’re laughing at this, we’re kind of falling into a trap. Right. The seriousness of this is not to be underplayed. I mean, you agree?

Speaker 2: Yes. And at the same time, I also think that there is value in showing how ridiculous and weak really this effort was. Not to say that it will be weak and ridiculous next time, not to downplay the future threat and not to downplay how close they came last time, but to just show everyone the absurdity of what they were doing.

Sonari GLINTON: So Jeremy, what happens next?

Speaker 2: So there was supposed to be a hearing on Wednesday that was postponed. They were a little bit cryptic about the reasons why next week. Brad Raffensperger, who is the secretary of state of Georgia and who Trump called on the eve of January six to try to pressure him to, quote, find exactly the right amount of votes for him to overturn his deficit in Georgia and claim victory in that is going to talk about that.

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Speaker 2: And that is critical and interesting because whatever the Department of Justice does, there is this district attorney Penny Willis in Fulton County, where Atlanta is is has a special grand jury impaneled now, right now investigating this and is right now looking into potential criminal charges in that state around this effort. The phone call was recorded. We know what happened on that call, but it will be important towards revealing a fuller picture and potentially what legal case in Georgia might look like.

Sonari GLINTON: Jeremy, thank you so much for your hard work in your reporting. I appreciate it.

Speaker 2: Thank you for having me.

Sonari GLINTON: Jeremy Stahl is a senior editor covering jurisprudence for Slate. And that’s the show.

Sonari GLINTON: Before we go, we need to make a quick correction. Yesterday, we aired a story about the San Francisco D.A. recall. And I mispronounced the district attorney’s name. It’s Jason Boudin, not Chesa Boudin. And I have one more quick announcement for you if you want to get up to date on everything happening with the Supreme Court right now. Come to the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday, June 23rd. My colleagues from Slate will be unpacking all the news, and there will also be a special live, slow burn taping to get your tickets. Now head to Slate.com slash supreme.

Sonari GLINTON: What next is produced by Elaina Schwartz, Carmel Delshad and Mary Wilson with help from Anna Rubanova and Sam Kim. We are led by Alicia montgomery and Joanne Levine. I’m Sonari GLINTON. If you want to follow my work, you can find me on Twitter. I’m at Sonari. Thank you for listening. Mary Harris will be back on Monday.