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DOJ Allows Prosecutors To Investigate Trump's False Voting Claims

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

More Republicans are getting behind President Trump's baseless claim that there was widespread fraud in the presidential election. Also, Attorney General William Barr has now authorized federal prosecutors to investigate, quote, "substantial allegations" of voting irregularities. The thing is - and this is important to mention - Barr did not suggest there is evidence of anything that would change the outcome of the presidential race. Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden is moving ahead with his transition into the White House.

And we have NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith with us this morning. Tam, good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Let's start with the attorney general. What is Barr doing here?

KEITH: So last night, Attorney General Barr put out a memo that said, in part, investigations may be conducted if there are clear and apparently credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual state. That is a lot of ifs. But he directly said that didn't mean the Justice Department had found any. Barr's decision prompted the director of the Department's elections crimes branch to resign from his position. He sent an email to colleagues saying Barr's memo abrogates a 40-year-old policy, and having familiarized himself with that new policy and its ramifications, he felt he had to step aside.

The bigger picture here is that President Trump has been alleging voter fraud and fundraising off of it. The campaign filed a new lawsuit in Pennsylvania yesterday. But it isn't clear this one will fare any better than the others. And, notably, despite the president and his allies claiming fraud, the suit doesn't actually allege that. Most of the lawsuits filed thus far have not survived even the first contact with the legal system.

GREENE: Well, and you have some prominent Republicans, like former President George W. Bush, coming out and congratulating Joe Biden. But you do have a good number of Republican lawmakers who are standing by President Trump in making this argument here.

KEITH: The vast majority of them are. But they are walking a fine line. They are indulging Trump's search for fraud until he exhausts all his legal options, but they're not necessarily endorsing what he's saying. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defended the president to an extent yesterday, speaking on the Senate floor yesterday.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: President Trump is 100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.

KEITH: He also repeated a line that no states have certified their results, which is correct. That is a formality that hasn't happened yet. But it doesn't change the results. He also didn't give any evidence to back up the irregularities that the Trump campaign spoke of.

GREENE: Well, then you have a president-elect, Joe Biden, who has a window of 70 days or so to transition into the White House. He says that the pandemic is going to be a top priority. And I guess we're going to be hearing from him today.

KEITH: That's right. He's expected to make a statement about the Affordable Care Act today, which, of course, was a signature achievement of the Obama administration. Yesterday, he announced his COVID-19 Transition Advisory Board, and he also spoke about mask wearing and other steps that members of the public can take. He's in the midst of an effort to try to depoliticize the coronavirus, which is a pretty tough task at this point.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: It doesn't matter your party, your point of view - we can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months - not Democrat or Republican lives, American lives.

KEITH: And Biden's team is also raising alarms, saying that they need to be able to begin the transition and the Trump administration isn't letting them.

GREENE: NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.