Attorney General William Barr and CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer had a back-and-forth debate about mass mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday’s broadcast of “Situation Room.”
During the exchange, Barr said, “This is playing with fire. We’re a very closely divided country here.”
Partial transcript as follows:
BLITZER: All right, let’s talk a little bit about what the President also said just a little while ago about North Carolina’s absentee voting system. He said, and I’m quoting him right now, “So let them send it in and let them go vote. And if the system is as good as they say it is, then obviously, they won’t be able to vote.” That sounds like he’s actually encouraging people to commit a crime to vote twice.
BARR: I’m sorry, you’ll have to read that again.
BLITZER: Right. This is what he said, “So let them send them” — “So let them send it in,” the vote — the e-mail — the voting by mail, “and let them go vote,” the ballot, “let them send in the ballot and then let them go vote. And if the system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote.” It sounds like he’s encouraging people to break the law and try to vote twice?
BARR: Well, I don’t know exactly what he was saying. 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 —
BLITZER: That would be illegal if they did that. If somebody mailed in a ballot and then actually showed up to vote in person. That would be illegal.
BARR: I don’t know what the law on that particular state says.
BLITZER: You can’t vote twice.
BARR: Well, I don’t know what the law in that particular state says. And when that vote becomes final —
BLITZER: Any state that says you can vote twice?
BARR: Well, there’s some, you know, maybe that you can change your vote up to a particular term. I don’t know what the law is, so I’m not going to offer —
BLITZER: That’s not what he’s saying. He was saying test the system —
BARR: Well, you know, what he’s saying, why are you asking me what he’s saying?
BLITZER: He doesn’t believe in the mail-in voting. You’re the Attorney General of the United States.
BLITZER: You know, he said, if you expand mail-in voting, this is the President —
BARR: This is, you know —
BLITZER: This is reckless.
BARR: Well, this is a, you know, sort of cheap talk to get around the fundamental problem, which is a bipartisan commission chaired by Jimmy Carter and James Baker said back in 2009 that a mail-in voting is fraud with the risk of fraud and coercion.
BLITZER: But since then —
BARR: Let me talk.
BARR: And since this — since that time, there been in the newspapers, in networks, academic studies saying it is open to fraud and coercion. The only time the narrative changed is after this administration came in, but elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion. For example, we indicted someone in Texas, 1,700 ballots collected from people who could vote he made them out and voted for the person he wanted to. OK?
BLITZER: Because —
BARR: That kind of thing happens with mail-in ballot. And everyone knows that.
BLITZER: But there were individual cases, but as far as widespread fraud, we haven’t seen that since —
BARR: Well, we haven’t had the kind of widespread use of mail-in ballots as being proposed. We’ve had absentee ballots from people who request them from a specific address. Now, what we’re talking about is mailing them to everyone on the voter list when everyone knows those voter lists are inaccurate. People who should get them don’t get them, which is what has been one of the major complaints in states that have tried this in municipal elections. And people who get them are not the right people. They’re people who have replaced the previous occupant, and they can make them out and sometimes multiple ballots come to the same address, with a whole generate — several generations of occupants. You think that’s a way to run a vote?
BLITZER: Well, the only thing I’m saying is that so far, we haven’t seen widespread fraud.
BARR: So far we haven’t tried it.
BLITZER: Well —
BARR: The point is —
BLITZER: There’s been a lot of us — there are several states that only have mail-in voting including a Republican –
BARR; Wolf, this is dealing with fire. This is playing with fire. We’re very closely divided country here. And if people have to have confidence in the results of the election and the legitimacy of the government. And people trying to change the rules to this methodology, which as a matter of logic is very open to fraud and coercion is reckless and dangerous, and the people are playing with fire.
BLITZER: I will point out there are five states that only have mail-in voting including Utah and Colorado and Washington State, Oregon, Hawaii, and they’ve reported over the years they’ve had virtually no problems. But who’s trying to change the rules right now?
BARR: I would say to people who want to go to mass mailing ballots.
BLITZER: But you understand why. There is a coronavirus pandemic.
BLITZER: And there are a lot of people, potentially, if they waited long lines, when they go to the polls, they could get sick, especially older people or people with underlying conditions. As a result, a lot of people want to change the rules so they don’t have to go wait on lines. They don’t have to touch all this —
BARR: And the appropriate way to deal with that is number one, arrangements at the polls that protect people which can be done. And number two, people who are — have preexisting conditions and are particularly vulnerable can get an absentee ballot. I have no problem with — I voted by absentee ballot, not by mail. I actually went to the office to cast my vote, but absentee ballots are fine.
BLITZER: All right, let’s move on and talk a little bit about another suggestion. You’ve said you were worried that a foreign country could send thousands of fake ballots, thousands of fake ballots to people that it might be impossible to detect. What are you basing that on?
BARR: I’m basing — as I’ve said repeatedly, I’m basing that on logic.
BLITZER: But have you seen any evidence that a foreign country is trying to interfere in that way?
BARR: No, I’m saying people are concern about foreign influence. And if we use a ballot system with the system that some, you know, that states are just now and trying to adopt, it does leave open the possibility of counterfeiting. Counterfeiting ballots either by someone here or someone overseas.
BLITZER: So you think a foreign country could do that?
BARR: I think anyone could do it.
BLITZER: Have you seen any evidence that they’re trying to do that?
BARR: No. But most things can be counterfeited. That’s why we go to the trouble of, you know, counter — of making our money the way we make it. Now, you know, should we have Minnesota print up our money on a regular parchment paper?
BLITZER: I asked the question because U.S. intelligence officials have said they’ve seen no information or intelligence that foreign countries whether Russia, or China —
BARR: Yes, but you ask the question, but I’ve answered that question several times. I said no, I don’t have any information because this is the first time we’ve tried such a thing. BLITZER: During your tenure as Attorney General of the United States, how many indictments have you brought against people committing voter fraud?
BARR: I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head, but several I know of.
BLITZER: Like a handful?
BARR: I can’t — I don’t know.
BLITZER: What several doesn’t sound like too many.
BARR: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know how many we have. I know there are a number of investigations right now. Some very big ones in states.
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