Backlash: Why media are targeting Trump aides’ testimony as civil war breaks out

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The backlash is brewing, big time.

In media and political circles, there was a warm welcome for Monday’s House committee depositions in which members of Donald Trump’s inner circle said they had told the president there was no evidence for his claims of widespread election fraud. This was declared most dramatically by Bill Barr, who said the president was “detached from reality” and not interested in the facts, but also by other top Justice officials and by campaign manager Bill Stepien.

These are not “fake news” types or Adam Schiff making the charge, these are all top advisers appointed by Trump himself. They are cooperating with the Democratic-controlled committee, sometimes under subpoena, and they are revealing damaging information about what went on behind closed doors.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 09: The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th hearing in the Cannon House Office Building on Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Washington, DC.  The bipartisan Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack On the United States Capitol has spent nearly a year conducting more than 1,000 interviews, reviewed more than 140,000 documents day of the attack.

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 09: The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th hearing in the Cannon House Office Building on Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Washington, DC. The bipartisan Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack On the United States Capitol has spent nearly a year conducting more than 1,000 interviews, reviewed more than 140,000 documents day of the attack.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

But they were in a no-win situation for having stayed quiet for so long. Now they’re getting whacked for it, and that was utterly predictable.

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MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough went off on the former attorney general for writing Trump a gracious resignation note, even though he was quitting

“He knew it was a lie. He said it was ‘bull****, and yet, he puts in departure, a note about how we’re going to continue pursuing these allegations that Barr says, repeatedly, he knows is a lie. Then he says later he’d vote for him again.” Morning Joe calls this “unpatriotic” and “sick,” saying Barr “soiled his reputation” by working for Trump but “was sucking up to him, even at the end… What was it worth for ya, Bill? Just what was it worth ? What a fascinating character study in corruption.”

I think that is an overstatement. Barr was perhaps the only top administration official who went public with his concerns while still in office. As Trump publicly pressured him to intervene in cases involving such allies as Roger Stone and Mike Flynn, Barr said the president’s tweets were making it impossible for him to do his job. And after the election, the AG told the Associated Press that DOJ probes had found no evidence of significant fraud that would have changed the outcome.

Attorney General William Barr and President Trump attend a signing ceremony for an executive order establishing the Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, in the Oval Office of the White House on Nov.  26, 2019, in Washington, DC.  Barr said he will only support Trump in the 2024 election if he was the GOP nominee.

Attorney General William Barr and President Trump attend a signing ceremony for an executive order establishing the Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, in the Oval Office of the White House on Nov. 26, 2019, in Washington, DC. Barr said he will only support Trump in the 2024 election if he was the GOP nominee.
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

What’s more, Barr said he didn’t want Trump to run in 2024, but would back him if he was the GOP nominee.

Still, the question had to be asked: Did Barr save his most damaging revelations for his book? As I said to him in our “Media Buzz” interview, “Should you have quit earlier and gone public with the very serious concerns that you describe in this book? Any regrets on that?”

Barr’s response: “No, because I didn’t have serious concerns before the election… You know, you don’t go out and say, I think the president acts like a jerk a lot of the time.”

But other MSNBC liberals piled on. Chris Hayes: “They all, in their own quiet way, went along with his lie… Bill Barr, down-the-block tough like, look at all the swagger in that room. Wow, this is nonsense. Idiotic. Where was that in November, December, Bill?”

Rachel Maddow: “Guys like Bill Barr, who frankly, in Bill Barr’s case, happily spread Trump lies before and after the election, that Democrats were perpetrating some kind of terrible shenanigans around the election.”

Oh, and Steve Bannon on his podcast: “Bill Barr, we’re coming for you, bro! You’re sitting there lying about this.” Bannon, by the way, accepted a Trump pardon for a previous indictment and is currently awaiting trial on contempt-of-Congress charges.

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So the fact that these Trump aides testified truthfully gets swept aside by why they didn’t speak out earlier. In Barr’s case, despite some critical public comments, he would have lost his job immediately and been replaced by a Trump loyalist who was willing to charge there was corruption in the election – a move the president tried to make later, only to be stopped by the threat of mass resignations at DOJ (the subject of some excellent Washington Post reporting).

The New York Times also jumps on the backlash bandwagon:

“Barr’s testimony and that of several aids played at the hearing were a candid, more brutal version of what they were saying in public shortly after the election.”

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The Times singles out Stepien, who in the days after the election, “did not publicly challenge Mr. Trump or Mr. Giuliani.” And two days after the election, adviser Jason Miller “raised the idea on a call with reporters that mysterious bags of ballots were showing up in states Mr. Trump was still contesting.”

Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani speaks during a press conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, DC, on November 19, 2020. Giuliani has remained a member of Trump's inner circle.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani speaks during a press conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, DC, on November 19, 2020. Giuliani has remained a member of Trump’s inner circle.
(Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

And critics say Stepien is still on the gravy train because he’s still getting paid by the Trump campaign and a related PAC.

Also weighing in is former Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who said “Trump’s inner circle at the end was… Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, Peter Navarro… Garbage in. Garbage out.”

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And Rudy, for the record, says he is “disgusted and outraged” by testimony from Stepien and Miller that he was intoxicated on Election Night. “I was upset that they were not prepared for the massive cheating (as well as other lawyers around the president I REFUSED all alcohol that evening.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the sound of a circular firing squad – all eagerly chronicled by the media.

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