Twelve days before the election, an associate of William Barr’s argued to me that the Attorney General deserved credit for his performance during the final six weeks of the Presidential campaign. The associate contended that Barr, rather than reinforcing wild claims from Donald Trump that would have served the President’s reëelection effort, had gone quiet. In some ways, the associate was correct. In October, after President Trump publicly demanded that Barr launch a criminal investigation into Hunter and Joe Biden, the Attorney General took no action. Barr also declined to announce the results of an investigation by a federal prosecutor, John Durham, into the F.B.I.’s probe of the 2016 Trump campaign. This spring, in a move that infuriated Trump, Barr cleared Barack Obama and the elder Biden of any wrongdoing in 2016, stating, “I don’t expect Mr. Durham’s work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man.” The associate insisted that Barr’s comments—and his silence—were intentional, and said, “The real October surprise is Bill Barr.” Unable to corroborate the claims and unsure of what to believe, I didn’t write a story about the conversation.
On Monday night, Barr’s apparent silence ended. The Attorney General issued a memorandum authorizing federal prosecutors to investigate the President’s specious claims of nationwide voter fraud, involving tens of thousands of ballots and, it seems, thousands of election officials in multiple states. The memo boosted the Trump campaign’s fantastical claims that the election fraud had occurred under the watch of two Republicans: the secretary of state in Georgia and the city commissioner overseeing the vote count in Philadelphia. Barr hedged in the memo, writing that “while serious allegations should be handled with great care, specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries.”