AP FACT CHECK: Barr raises voter fraud specter, China threat

Published 6:30 am Saturday, September 5, 2020

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WASHINGTON — As the 2020 presidential race between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden heats up, Attorney General William Barr warned of the potential of substantial fraud in voting by mail — but he omitted necessary context, and states that rely on the process say there is little evidence of such activity.

He also suggested that China poses more of a threat to election security than Russia, even though that was not the conclusion of an official intelligence assessment last month.

Here’s a look at the claims, made in a Wednesday evening interview with CNN:

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BARR on fraud in the vote-by-mail process: “Elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion.”

THE FACTS: Multiple studies have debunked the notion of pervasive voter fraud in general and in the vote-by-mail process.

The five states that relied on mail-in ballots even before the coronavirus pandemic — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah — have said they have necessary safeguards in place to ensure against fraud and to prevent hostile foreign actors from co-opting the vote. More states intend to rely more heavily on mail-in voting this fall because of the pandemic.

The attorney general cited a report from more than a decade ago from a commission led by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker that said vote-by-mail was vulnerable to fraud. But the commission pointed out in a statement in May that it had found little evidence of fraud in states like Oregon that had sufficient safeguards.

Barr also said he was basing on “logic” his concern that a hostile foreign actor could produce bogus ballots for the election. But senior U.S. officials said on a conference call with reporters last week that they had no intelligence to suggest that was happening.

BARR, on the question of whether Russia, China or Iran, has been most assertive in interfering in the election: “I believe it’s China.”

THE FACTS: Barr’s assessment does not line up with last month’s formal statement from the government’s counterintelligence chief, William Evanina.

The statement directly implicated Russia in 2020 election interference by saying it was actively working to denigrate Biden. Its characterization of China’s activities was considerably more nebulous, however, saying it regards Trump as unpredictable and prefers that he not win.

The statement said intelligence officials believed China has been expanding “its influence efforts” to shape the policy environment ahead of the November election and will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action. But they did not specifically place China as a more serious threat or allege that Beijing was directly interfering in the election.

Barr said he had reviewed intelligence to inform his assessment on China, which lines up with recent comments from national intelligence director John Ratcliffe and is in keeping with the Trump administration’s position that Beijing presents significant national security concerns for the U.S., particularly when it comes to espionage and the theft of intellectual property from American universities and businesses.