WASHINGTON - In a fresh setback to President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the November 3 presidential election, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has uncovered no evidence of widespread fraud that would alter the outcome of the election.
Barr, a staunch Trump ally who issued dire warnings about the possibility of voter fraud in the lead-up to the election, said in an interview with The Associated Press that U.S. attorneys and FBI agents have examined complaints about fraud but have found no evidence that would change the election results.
"To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election," Barr told AP.
The comments validate what state election officials and governors throughout the country have been saying for weeks, in sharp contradiction to Trump's baseless claim that the election was rigged in favor of Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden.
Trump criticizes Justice Department
As his campaign and supporters filed numerous legal challenges to election results in the key battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, Trump took the Justice Department to task for failing to investigate his allegations.
In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, Trump said the Justice Department was "missing in action."
"You would think if you're in the FBI or Department of Justice, this is the biggest thing you could be looking at," he said. "Where are they? I've not seen anything."
Trump did not immediately react to Barr's comments. But in a statement, Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and campaign senior legal adviser, Jenna Ellis, said "there hasn't been any semblance of a Department of Justice investigation" of election fraud.
A Justice Department spokesman did not respond to the Trump campaign's criticism.
Trump's 'personal lawyer'
Until recently, Barr and Trump have been such close allies and legal strategists that critics labeled him Trump's "personal lawyer." The two repeatedly echoed each other's opposition to mail-in voting, saying the method would lead to rampant fraud.
On November 9, in a departure from longstanding policy, Barr told federal prosecutors they could investigate "specific allegations" of election fraud before the results were certified. The unprecedented directive prompted the Justice Department's top election crimes prosecutor to resign from his position.
But no evidence of fraud was found. In the AP interview, Barr rejected a claim advanced by former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell and others that rigged election systems somehow flipped millions of votes from Biden to Trump.
"There's been one assertion that would be systemic fraud, and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results," Barr said. "And the (Department of Homeland Security) and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven't seen anything to substantiate that."
Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections at the watchdog group Common Cause, said Barr's comments that the DOJ was unable to find substantive evidence of fraud could potentially put him in Trump's crosshairs.
Most secure election
Last week, Trump fired Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs after Krebs said the November 3 election was the most secure in U.S. history.
"The president seems to fire anybody who states a fact that he does not agree with," Albert said.
In its assessment of the November 3 election, Common Cause said it had uncovered instances of routine Election Day problems such as malfunctioning machines and long lines but no evidence of fraud.
In November 2018, Trump fired Jeff Sessions, his first attorney general, in part because Sessions recused himself from the special counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump then tapped Barr, who had previously served as attorney general in the early 1990s, to replace Sessions.
Albert criticized Barr for toeing Trump's line on voter fraud before belatedly stating the obvious.
"The attorney general has for the past month continued to help the president undermine people's confidence in the election, so I'm not going to give him a prize for telling the truth when he's told it a month late," Albert said in an interview with VOA.
But Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor and a former Justice Department official, welcomed Barr's comments as a "statement grounded in reality."
"I'm quite glad that the leadership of the Department seems to have embraced something of a return to independence and normalcy, and that the attorney general seems to have recognized that it's no longer in his interest to function as the president's personal lawyer," Levitt wrote in an email to VOA.