In the abstract, it is as robust a rejection of former president Donald Trump’s claims as could be arranged: His former attorney general, who earned a well-deserved reputation for his dogged defenses of Trump, appearing on Fox News to dismantle Trump’s claims about his federal indictment, one by one by one.

But this is America in 2023, so no one should be under any illusion that the appearance did much to change the minds of Trump supporters. Fervent enthusiasm for Trump has never been about logic, however often Trump and his allies try to backstop his assertions with hastily constructed rhetoric. Trumpism is an emotional movement and that fireproofs it against things like William P. Barr telling Fox News’s Shannon Bream that the indictment “came about because of reckless conduct of the president.”

Barr was a guest on Bream’s Sunday morning program this week, and he expended few extra words in slicing up Trump’s attempts to defend the actions that led to his indictment.

For example: It is not the case that the situation should have been resolved under the congenial auspices of the Presidential Records Act, Barr said, because “it started out under the Presidential Records Act” but Trump refused to comply.

“I think the government acted responsibly,” Barr told Bream. “They gave him every opportunity to return those documents. They acted with restraint. They were very deferential to him and they were very patient. They talked to him for almost a year to try to get those documents, and he jerked them around. They finally went to a subpoena. And what did he do? According to the government, he lied and obstructed that subpoena. And then they did a search and they found a lot more documents.”

For example: The situation with Trump was not comparable to the actions of other past presidents like Barack Obama because “they arranged with the [National Archives and Records Administration] to set up special space under the management, control and security provided by the archivist to temporarily put documents until the libraries were ready. These were not people just putting them in their basement.”

For example: While there is a viable legal difference between Trump’s personal documents and presidential records, highly classified documents created by the government for the purposes of briefing a sitting president do not qualify as the former.

“The president’s daily brief provided by the intelligence community,” Barr said, “is not Donald J. Trump’s personal document, period.”

As if to reinforce the point that Barr saw this behavior as exceptional, he was also asked about two other issues that Trump and his allies have looped into discussions over the indictment: the Russia investigation and the efforts by congressional Republicans to elevate a bribery allegation against President Biden. In the first case, Barr reiterated his long-standing (and dubious) belief that it was “an effort to knock him out with a false claim.” In the latter, he disagreed with the suggestion of Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, that the bribery allegation had been dismissed. (In a statement to The Washington Post, a spokesman for the committee’s Democrats reiterated that “[t]he FBI informed the Committee, in no uncertain terms, that this assessment was closed in August 2020 after it failed to identify sufficient evidence to justify further investigation.”)

But Barr’s willingness to defend Trump’s assertions on those points should conceivably give more weight to his refusal to do so on the indictment. Conceivably.

The problem, of course, is that Trump has already moved Barr from the “loyal” bucket to the one labeled “traitor.” In December 2020, Barr admitted that there was no evidence the presidential election had been stolen, leading to his forced departure from the Justice Department. Barr offered testimony before the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot, at which point he summarized Trump’s view of the election results: For Trump, “there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.”

This tendency of Trump’s is by no means limited to election fraud.

But because Barr took that position then, Trump has already spent more than a year disparaging his former ally. In Trump’s presentation, Barr only denied the existence of election fraud because he was terrified of being impeached. This makes little sense; Barr was leaving office in January anyway, given Trump’s loss, and it’s unlikely (as Trump knows well) that Senate Republicans would approve his ouster. But this is Trump’s story, and he’s sticking to it.

“Virtually everyone is saying that the Indictment is about Election Interference & should not have been brought, except Bill Barr, a ‘disgruntled former employee’ & lazy Attorney General who was weak & totally ineffective,” Trump wrote on his social-media network. “He doesn’t mean what he’s saying, it’s just MISINFORMATION. Barr’s doing it because he hates ‘TRUMP’ for firing him. He was deathly afraid of the Radical Left when they said they would Impeach him. He knows the Indictment is Bull…. Turn off FoxNews [sic] when that ‘Gutless Pig’ is on!”

A scattershot argument, certainly, and an emotional one, but that’s what counts. By mid-2022, after Barr’s testimony before the select committee became public, about as many Republicans viewed him unfavorably as favorably.

Trump’s insistence that his supporters turn off Fox News is interesting, though. The former president no doubt recognizes that the cable news channel is trying to navigate this interregnum in which Trump’s grip on the political right — and Fox’s core viewing audience — is being adjudicated by Republican primary voters. By responding to unfavorable coverage by blaming Fox News, Trump to some extent puts pressure on the network.

He probably doesn’t need to worry much. Bream’s show pulled in about 650,000 viewers on June 4. Sean Hannity’s June 8 prime-time program, on which myriad guests railed against the purported injustice of the whole thing, was seen by 2.3 million. If Barr’s appearance Sunday was part of a plan by network executives to peel loyalty away from Trump, they’re doing so extremely cautiously.

One of the bizarre dynamics that has been exposed since the indictment came out is that Trump supporters theorize that their own assessment of the law (adopted from Trump, Hannity and other loyalists) is somehow more robust than the assessment of the Justice Department or of people like Bill Barr. Because Trump has been so effective at convincing his supporters that the legal system is out to get him — a belief that Barr himself helped to bolster! — the former president’s self-serving claims about the case are accepted by default.

In a CBS News-YouGov poll released over the weekend, three-quarters of likely Republican primary voters said the indictment was politically motivated. Three-quarters also said the indictment doesn’t change their view of Trump or improves their view (though that’s almost certainly just a way for respondents to emphasize how little they care).

There is no voice who could convince Trump’s most energetic supporters of the idea that he willfully violated the law. There never has been. Anyone who tries to present the reality of the situation to his base, however close they were to Trump at the outset, is immediately exiled.

The truth has no place in Trumpism.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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