Attorney General Bill Barr criticized vote-by-mail, denied that racism exists in the criminal justice system, and claimed without evidence that Jacob Blake was committing a felony when he was shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha cop, all during a wide-ranging interview on CNN’s “The Situation Room” on Wednesday.
On multiple occasions, Barr was asked to defend Trump’s remarks and, while denying he knew specifically what Trump was talking about, echoed the administration’s line anyway. For example, earlier in the day, Trump encouraged voters in North Carolina to try to vote multiple times. When asked about that, Barr said he didn’t know the specifics of the state’s voting laws — and then agreed with Trump’s claims that states that are moving to vote by mail are enabling voter fraud.
According to Barr, that potential fraud could include interference from foreign countries, which intelligence officials have said there’s no evidence for but which Barr claimed was possible “based on logic.”
"We're a very closely divided country here," Barr told CNN. "People trying to change the rules to this, to this methodology — which, as a matter of logic, is very open to fraud and coercion — is reckless and dangerous and people are playing with fire.”
"I don't know exactly what he was saying,” Barr said of Trump’s remarks in North Carolina, “but it seems to me what he's saying is, he's trying to make the point that the ability to monitor this system is not good. And if it was so good, if you tried to vote a second time, you would be caught if you voted in person."
Barr also claimed that Jacob Blake was committing a felony and was armed when he was shot by Kenosha police last month, something that no one has officially alleged.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice has said that Blake told police he had a knife in his possession and that, after the shooting, officers found a knife on the driver’s side floorboard. They have not said Blake was armed.
Barr also insisted that the disproportionate number of Black people killed by the police is a “false narrative,” and seemingly made a case that bias in policing doesn’t exist.
"I don't think there are two justice systems," Barr said. "I think the narrative that the police are in some epidemic of shooting unarmed Black men is simply a false narrative and also the narrative that's based on race."
Barr also claimed bias isn’t “built into the institution” of the criminal justice system.
"I think there are some situations where statistics would suggest that they are treated differently, but I don't think that that's necessarily racism," Barr said. “I think we have to be careful about throwing around the idea of racism.”
“Racism usually means that I believe that because of your race, you’re a lesser human being,” he added. “And I think there are people in the United States who feel that way, but I don’t think it’s as common as people suggest, and I think we have safeguards to ensure it doesn’t really have an effect.”
The government’s own researchers have found that Black people are up to three times as likely to be killed by law enforcement as whites, and more likely to be unarmed when killed.
To make his argument that cases such as Blake’s are rare, Barr referenced comments made by civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson in 1993. "Didn't Jesse Jackson say that when he looks behind him and he sees a group of young Black males walking behind him, he's more scared than when he sees a group of White youths walking behind him," Barr said. "Does that make him a racist?"
Later, Jackson told CNN that Barr took his comments out of context, saying he was talking about a specific person who killed a family member in front of Jackson’s wife.
"What Mr. Barr said is the opposite about what I meant about crime," he said. "Those shot in Wisconsin, the killings in Ferguson and the killing in Atlanta, Breonna (Taylor) and George Floyd, all of those were police killings that had nothing to do with who was coming down the street."
Cover: Attorney General William Barr talks to the media during a news conference about Operation Legend, a federal task force formed to fight violent crime in several cities, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)