Washington — Former Attorney General WIlliam Barr dismissed the argument that the election interference case against former President Donald Trump is not valid because his statements were protected by the First Amendment. 

“It’s certainly a challenging case, but I don’t think it runs afoul of the First Amendment,” Barr told “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “From a prosecutor’s standpoint, I think it’s a legitimate case.” 

Trump’s legal team argues he was indicted for political speech that was protected by the First Amendment. The indictment itself acknowledges that Trump “had a right, like every American, to speak publicly about the election and even to claim, falsely, that there had been outcome-determinative fraud during the election and that he had won.” 

“If that was all it was about, I would be concerned on a First Amendment front,” Barr said. 

But Trump’s alleged actions went beyond political speech, he said.  

“This involved a situation where the states had already made the official and authoritative determination as to who won in those states and they sent the votes and certified them to Congress,” Barr said. “The allegation, essentially, by the government is that at that point, the president conspired, entered into a plan, a scheme, that involved a lot of deceit, the object of which was to erase those votes, to nullify those lawful votes.”

“The other elements were the substitution of bogus panels — that were not authorized panels —  to claim that they had alternative votes,” he said. “And that was clearly wrong and the certifications they signed were false. But then pressuring the vice president to use that as a pretext to adopt the Trump votes and reject the Biden votes or even to delay it — it really doesn’t matter whether it’s to delay it or to adopt it or to send it to the House of Representatives. You have to remember a conspiracy crime is completed at the time it’s agreed to and the first steps are taken. That’s when the crime is complete.” 

Special counsel Jack Smith brought four felony charges against Trump last week in the 2020 election interference case, including conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights. Trump has pleaded not guilty. 

Barr declined to say whether he was interviewed by the special counsel during the investigation, but said he would “of course” appear as a witness if called.

The former attorney general, who resigned from the Trump administration in December 2020, said he told Trump on at least three occasions that “in no uncertain terms that there was no evidence of fraud that would have changed the outcome.”