Back in July, the US attorney general Bill Bar was dutifully echoing Donald Trump’s warnings that mass mail-in voting was vulnerable to election fraud.
Mr Barr’s forceful repetition of the unfounded claims were met with heavy criticism from opponents, who accused the country’s top law enforcement official of using his position to boost Mr Trump’s chances of re-election.
After the vote, Mr Barr attracted criticism once more when he authorised prosecutors to pursue allegations of vote counting “irregularities” before election officials had certified the results – a significant reversal from long-standing Justice Department policy.
So it was a severe blow to the president’s hopes of overturning the election results when Mr Barr publicly declared on Tuesday night: “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election”.
Democrats were quick to crow over the admission by the head of the Justice Department, one of the president’s closest allies.
“If you’ve even lost Bill Barr… it’s time to pack it up,” said Adam Schiff, a senior Democrat congressman.
If you’ve even lost Bill Barr… it’s time to pack it up.⁰⁰Voters made an overwhelming statement about who they want to be our next President. (And it wasn’t Trump.)⁰⁰America has important work and serious challenges ahead. It’s time to stop paying attention to his sideshow. https://t.co/BsiCjO2ZYr
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) December 1, 2020
Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, could barely contain his grin as he was asked to react to Mr Barr’s comments. “I guess he’s the next one to be fired, since he too says there’s no fraud,” he told reporters. “Trump seems to fire anyone in that regard.”
Speculation was rife when the attorney general was seen entering the White House, but officials insisted that Mr Barr was attending a pre-scheduled meeting. Within hours, however, a spokesperson for the Justice Department had issued a statement insisting it would “continue to receive and vigorously pursue all specific and credible allegations of fraud as expeditiously as possible.”
While Mr Trump continued to claim he had proof of widespread voter fraud, insisting that the election was “rigged”, Mr Barr’s comments appear to have given cover to other senior Republicans to break with the president on the claims.
Mitch McConnell, the top Republican senator, appeared to concede the president’s electoral defeat in a telling remark on Tuesday when he referred to “the new administration” which would be shaping the agenda next year.
The comments by Mr McConnell, who has hitherto refused to recognise Mr Trump’s defeat, and Mr Barr represent a major blow to the president.
Mr Trump’s legal team were quick to hit back at Mr Barr’s claims, insisting the attorney general’s “opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation”.
The president’s lawyers have vowed to continue their court battles, but with two of Mr Trump’s most powerful allies now publicly breaking with him it appears the Republican tide is finally shifting against the president.