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William Barr, who initially sowed doubt about election integrity, says questioning election led to Capitol riot

William Barr, the former attorney general, said in an interview that was broadcast Monday night that doubts raised about the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election results “precipitated the riot” at the Capitol on Jan. 6. But he would not say whether he believed that President Donald Trump had incited the mob that ransacked the building, instead blaming free-speech issues and the news media.

Barr, who stepped down last month after pushing back on Trump’s false claims that the election had been stolen from him, told the British news channel ITV that it was “unacceptable” that a pro-Trump mob broke into the Capitol building and disrupted proceedings to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.

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The government “cannot tolerate violence interfering with the process of government,” Barr said. He called the riots that resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer, “despicable.”

But Barr did not discuss the role that he played in undermining the integrity of the election. He had spent months sowing concerns that the results would be rife with fraud because of the rise in the number of people voting by mail amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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In public remarks before the election, Barr was among the most vocal opponents of mail-in ballots, a voting method used disproportionately by Democrats. Rather than offering proof that mail-in ballots encouraged fraud, he justified his claims by saying they were based on “common sense.”

“I don’t have empirical evidence other than the fact that we’ve always had voting fraud,” Barr said in September.

His comments set the groundwork for Trump’s false claims that Biden was not the rightful winner.

Former Attorney General William Barr speaks during a news conference on Dec. 21, 2020 at the Justice Department in Washington.
Former Attorney General William Barr speaks during a news conference on Dec. 21, 2020 at the Justice Department in Washington. (Michael Reynolds / EPA/AP)

In the days after the election, Barr was silent on the issue, and he did not correct his earlier claims about fraud or encourage the public to accept the results. By the time he acknowledged in December that the Justice Department had found no evidence of voting fraud on a scale that could have affected the outcome, his earlier theories about election interference had metastasized.

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In his ITV interview, Barr was unwilling to discuss any role that Trump might have played in the mob attack. “I leave it to the people who are looking into the genesis of this to say whether incitement was involved,” he said, not naming his former boss.

Barr also seemed to back away from a stronger statement he had made the day after the riot, when he told The Associated Press that Trump’s conduct was a “betrayal of his office and supporters.”

“Orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable,” Barr told The AP.

In a nod to long-standing complaints by conservatives that social media companies unfairly censor them, Barr also told ITV that “the suppression of free speech” was to blame for the riot. He said some people might resort to violence when they “lose confidence in the media.”

c.2020 The New York Times Company

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