Toward the end of Attorney General Bill Barr's interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer yesterday, the discussion turned to foreign election interference, and the host asked a straightforward question: "Do you accept that Russia is once again interfering in the U.S. presidential election?"
The answer didn't go well.
"I accept that there's some preliminary activity that suggests that they might try again.... It wouldn't surprise me if Russia tries something again of the same general genre of before."
While I suspect the Kremlin and Donald Trump appreciated Barr's rhetoric, there's no reason anyone else should take it seriously. There's a lot more than "some preliminary" evidence that "suggests" Russia "might try again" to interfere in U.S. elections. We know this with some certainty because it was just a few weeks ago when William Evanina, Trump's director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, released a statement documenting the fact that Kremlin-linked operatives are actively involved in an effort to keep Trump in power.
It was not speculative about some future event that may or may not occur: Evanina's intelligence assessment said Moscow's efforts are ongoing right now. The unclassified statement is available online and it literally reads, "We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden.... Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television."
Note, all of this was in the present tense.
Barr nevertheless sought to downplay Russia's offensive, pretending the Kremlin's efforts are something that "might" occur in the future, as opposed to something that's already occurring right now.
As part of the same interview, Barr argued that China is more aggressive than Russia in targeting the U.S. political system. Pressed for an explanation, the attorney general, "I've seen the intelligence. That's what I've concluded."
The problem, of course, is that Barr's assessment is almost certainly untrue. The National Counterintelligence and Security Center report said that while China would like to see Trump lose, it's not actively involved in direct intervention -- unlike Russia, which is taking deliberate steps.
Politico reported this week that the U.S. intelligence community has come to conclusions that are at odds with what Barr claimed on CNN. The article added, "[N]ational security officials and others briefed on the latest election threat intelligence are now expressing concern that the Trump administration is trying to draw attention away from the more acute threat posed by Moscow, which is again trying to boost Trump’s reelection, they said."
Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), a former assistant secretary of state, wrote on Twitter this morning, "I've seen the intelligence, too, and have been briefed by the intel community's top China and Russia experts. Barr is lying here."
If the attorney general is trying to position himself as a shameless partisan with no credibility on matters of national importance, he's succeeding beautifully.