President Donald Trump's attorney general Bill Barr told him a month after the 2020 election that allegations of voter fraud were groundless, but Trump rejected that, the Atlantic magazine reported.
Barr told reporter Jonathan Karl in interviews that as soon as Trump's defeat by Democrat Joe Biden was clear after the November 3 vote, he ordered the Justice Department to conduct an informal review of Trump's sweeping claims of illegal ballots and voting machine rigging in multiple states.
"We realised from the beginning it was just bullshit," Barr told Karl, an ABC News reporter who will publish a book on Trump's last days in office later this year.
According to the Atlantic article, published Sunday, after the election Barr was repeatedly urged privately by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to quell Trump's allegations.
McConnell "told Barr that Trump's claims were damaging to the country and to the Republican Party," pointing especially to two tough runoff races for Senate seats, Karl wrote, citing Barr.
In early December Barr finally acted, telling one reporter in an exclusive interview that the Justice Department had not found any significant fraud.
The news jolted the White House and Trump summoned Barr demanding to know why he said that.
"Because it's true," Barr told Trump.
"You must hate Trump. You must hate Trump," the president responded.
Trump persisted in his claims, which propelled lawsuits and forced recounts in several key states that ultimately revealed no significant evidence of fraud.
Yet Trump's claims culminated in the violent January 6 attack on the US Capitol by hundreds of his supporters seeking to delay certification of Biden's election win.
Critics noted Barr had been a close Trump political supporter who himself warned in September 2020, with no concrete evidence, that mail-in voting popular in the Covid-19 pandemic was "very open to fraud."
Barr resigned as attorney general on December 14, issuing a statement of strong praise for Trump, saying he was a victim of "partisan onslaught" by the Democrats, and not challenging Trump again on the election fraud claims.
Late Sunday Trump blasted the Atlantic story and repeated his claims of irregularities in the 2020 election
Barr, Trump said, "failed to investigate election fraud, and really let down the American people."
"It's people in authority like Bill Barr that allow the crazed Radical Left to succeed," he said in a statement.