Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters as Senate Republican leaders hold a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 1, 2020.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
  • For weeks after the election, Mitch McConnell stayed silent on Trump's election fraud claims.
  • At the same time, he pleaded with Bill Barr to speak out against them, according to a new book by ABC's Jonathan Karl.
  • McConnell thought speaking out could risk upsetting Trump and hurt GOP chances in the Senate runoff.
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Last fall, when President Donald Trump was spreading unsubstantiated claims about widespread election fraud, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was urging Attorney General Bill Barr to speak out against them, according to a forthcoming book by ABC News Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl.

Meanwhile, McConnell said nothing publicly to rebuke the president's claims.

Barr told Karl that McConnell said he believed Trump's claims were damaging to the GOP and to the US, but that he couldn't speak out for political reasons.

"Look, we need the president in Georgia," McConnell told Barr, in reference to the upcoming runoff election that would determine control of the Senate. "And so we cannot be frontally attacking him right now. But you're in a better position to inject some reality into this situation. You are really the only one who can do it."

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According to Karl, McConnell thought the most effective message to win the Senate seats was to argue that because Joe Biden would be president, Republicans needed control of the Senate. But he felt he couldn't acknowledge Biden's win without upsetting Trump and risking the GOP Senate campaigns.

Karl said McConnell confirmed Barr's account of the conversations.

After Barr told McConnell he was waiting for the right time to speak out, McConnell called him again and pleaded with him to dismiss the fraud claims, saying "you are the only person who can do it," Karl reported.

The exchange was described in an excerpt of the book "Betrayal" that was published in The Atlantic on Sunday. The book is set for release in November.

As Barr and McConnell reportedly had these conversations, McConnell himself would not speak out against the fraud claims. Instead, he chose to point out that the president had the right to pursue legal challenges.

Not until December 15, two weeks after Barr publicly said the Justice Department uncovered no evidence of widespread fraud, did McConnell acknowledge Biden's win. And on January 19, when McConnell blamed Trump for the Capitol riot, he acknowledged there was not any evidence for the widespread claims of fraud.

Republicans ended up losing the two Senate seats in Georgia when Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock pulled off wins against GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

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