Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr, White House, May 2019 (Jabin Botsford/Washington Post)

UPDATE, 1210 GMT: A team of international observers, invited by the Trump administration, has praised the conduct of last Tuesday’s elections — and has criticized Donald Trump over his allegations and conspiracy theories.

The 28-member delegation from the Organization of American States monitored polling and counting in states such as Georgia and Michigan.

While the OAS Mission has not directly observed any serious irregularities that call into question the results so far, it supports the right of all contesting parties in an election, to seek redress before the competent legal authorities when they believe they have been wronged.

It is critical however, that candidates act responsibly by presenting and arguing legitimate claims before the courts, not unsubstantiated or harmful speculation in the public media.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe issued similar findings.

“Baseless allegations of systematic deficiencies, notably by the incumbent President, including on election night, harm public trust in democratic institutions,” said Michael Georg Link, the leader of the OSCE mission.

Link’s statement is supported evidence of the corrosive effects of the false claims of the Trump camp. Among Republicans in a Politico/Morning Consult survey, 70% say they do not believe the election was free and fair, compared to 35% before the election. In comparison, 90% of Democrats say the election was free and fair, up from 52% before the vote.

Among Republicans who do not accept the election as free and fair, 78% believe mail-in voting led to widespread voter fraud and 72% believe there was tampering with ballots.

UPDATE, 1200 GMT: The supervisor of Georgia’s voting system, Gabriel Sterling, has quashed the attempt by Gov. Brian Kemp, a diehard Trump ally, and Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, to portray election fraud.

Sterling told reporters that there is no evidence of fraud. He said the results, including a lead of more than 11,000 votes for Joe Biden over Trump, can be trusted and claims to the contrary should not be given credibility.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Attorney General William Barr, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and other Republican senators all dig in, supporting Donald Trump’s refusal to accept defeat to President-elect Joe Biden.

Breaking long-standing Justice Department policies, Barr announced an investigation of allegations of voter fraud, propping up Trump’s evidence-free declarations of a stolen election. McConnell, confirming his weekend signal of support for Trump, repeated the line about “legal” v. “illegal” ballots.

The announcements pointed to weeks of delay and attempted confusion as Trump refuses to concede. Biden extended his lead on Monday to almost 100,000 votes across the four states — Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada — that were decisive last week.

Meanwhile, an embittered Trump began the retributions within his Administration, announcing on Twitter that he had “terminated” Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The firings of FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel may follow.

Barr Steps Up Once More for Trump

Barr said on Monday that he had authorized “specific instances” of investigative steps in some cases: “Given that voting in our current elections has now concluded, I authorize you to pursue substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities prior to the certification of elections in your jurisdictions.”

His memo was issued hours after he met McConnell in the Senate Majority Leader’s office.

Barr covered himself with the caution that “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched” claims should not be a basis for inquiries. But the Jodustice Department official who oversees investigations of voter fraud, Richard Pilger, soon resigned in protest.

The Justice Department’s policies draw a line against such investigations, ensuring that law enforcement does not affect the outcome of an election. Federal prosecutors are prohibited from questioning witnesses or securing subpoenas for documents until voting results have been certified.

Public knowledge of a criminal investigation could impact the adjudication of election litigation and contests in state courts. Accordingly, it is the general policy of the department not to conduct overt investigations.

But Barr’s move follows his lifting of a prohibition on investigations before the November 3 vote.

A Justice Department official said the Attorney General had authorized investigations about ineligible voters in Nevada and backdated mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania. The Trump camp has made unsupported claims for days in both areas.

Barr privately told Department officials that any disputes should be resolved in court by the campaigns, according to “three people briefed on the conversations“. He has said that he did not see widespread fraud, with most allegations about individual instances.

But since his appointment in January 2019, the Attorney General has repeatedly assisted Trump’s stay in power. He tried to bury the Mueller Report on Trump-Russia links, misrepresenting it as a finding of “No Collusion”. He sought to protect his patron over Trump’s pressure on Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to spread disinformation about Biden. And with the Trump campaign seeking an “October Surprise”, he sanctioned an investigation supporting Trump’s allegations of US agencies — including the FBI — seeking to block his 2016 election and then trying to undermine his Presidency.

Pilger, who oversaw voter fraud investigations in the Department’s Public Integrity Section who oversaw voting-fraud-related investigations, wrote, “Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications. I must regretfully resign from my role as director of the Election Crimes Branch.”

Justice Department prosecutors said Barr’s initiative is unlikely to change the outcome of the election but may damage public confidence in the results. They noted that it will also help McConnell’s continued refusal to acknowledge President-elect Biden.

McConnell: “Trump 100% Within His Rights”

In a speech on the Senate floor, McConnell proclaimed that Trump was fully justified in refusing to concede and in launching multiple legal cases across US states, despite the failure to produce any evidence of fraud.

President Trump is 100 percent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options. Let’s not have any lectures about how the President should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election.

McConnell initally held back from any comment about Trump’s dismissal of the outcome. But last Friday, he tipped his hand on Twitter as the Trump camp launched its line of “legal” votes — those for Trump — “illegal” votes — mail-in ballots for Biden: “Here’s how this must work in our great country: Every legal vote should be counted. Any illegally-submitted ballots must not.”

Other Senators went even further. Trump’s friend Sen. Lindsey Graham pushed Trump’s “corrupt system” and “stolen election” proclamations:

Georgia’s two Senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, took the extraordinary step of calling on the state’s top election official, a Republican, to resign over “failures”.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the senators’ cleaims were “laughable”.

Both Perdue and Loeffler faced run-off elections against Democratic challengers in early January. If both lose, the Senate will be 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the decisive vote.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp also backed Trump, emphasizing his support with a large self-portrait:

But in a sign of trouble for Trump’s quest, Fox TV broke its alliance by cutting away from White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s lies about the election.

See also Game Over? Trump’s Media Allies Desert Him