Former Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday rejected arguments that Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election amounted to free speech, saying the government had a “legitimate” case following Tuesday’s indictment of the former president.
Trump was indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with his attempts to remain in power after he lost the election to Joe Biden. He faces four felony charges claiming multiple conspiracies to defraud the United States, obstruct an official proceeding and deprive Americans of their right to vote and have that vote counted.
The former president’s attorneys responded with fury, accusing the Justice Department of attacking free speech and undermining Trump’s First Amendment rights. But Barr, who served under Trump until Dec. 23, 2020, told CNN those assertions were wrong.
“As the indictment says, they’re not attacking his First Amendment right. He can say whatever he wants. He can even lie,” Barr told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Wednesday. “He can even tell people that the election was stolen when he knew better. But that does not protect you from entering into a conspiracy. All conspiracies involve speech, and all fraud involves speech.”
“As a legal matter, I don’t see a problem with the indictment,” he added. “I think that it’s not an abuse. The Department of Justice is not acting to weaponize the department by proceeding against the president for a conspiracy to subvert the electoral process.”
Barr went on to confirm key points in the indictment, saying Trump was repeatedly told there was no evidence of electoral fraud.
“As to people who had some knowledge of whether or not there was fraud, everyone was telling him that the election was not stolen by fraud,” he said, adding that Trump “would search for a lawyer who would give him the advice he wanted.”
“He wouldn’t listen to all the lawyers in various departments or the White House.”
The indictment is Trump’s third in four months. Special counsel Jack Smith has charged the former president with 40 felony counts related to his handling of classified documents. Trump has also been indicted in New York on charges related to hush-money payments made to the porn star Stormy Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Barr added Wednesday that his former boss had ensnared many former aides and supporters in his misdeeds, warning he would continue to do the same moving forward.
“He leaves in his wake, ruined lives like this. The people who went up to Capitol Hill, these individuals [in the documents case], many of the people who served him… . He just leaves all this carnage in his wake. … Loyalty is a one-way street for him.”