Bill Barr 2000 Mules
Appearing via videotaped testimony before the Jan. 6 congressional committee, former US Attorney General William Barr, center right, laughs as he describes his skepticism of the right wing propaganda film "2000 Mules," which makes unsubstantiated claims about the use of ballot drop boxes in the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin and other states.

The January 6 Committee showed video of Bill Barr laughing about the claims in the movie “2000 Mules.” That laugh could have been useful in March when Assembly Republicans turned a hearing over to conspiracy theorists.

In a video played Monday during the second public hearing of a special congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection, former President Donald Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr laughs and scoffs at claims that cell phone data proves there was voter fraud in Wisconsin in the 2020 election.

Had Barr shared such boisterous skepticism a few weeks earlier, it would have likely cast a damper on Wisconsin state Assembly Republicans who provided a public forum in March for the allegations that have since become the basis for the pro-Trump propaganda film, “2000 Mules.”

The thoroughly discredited work by right wing celebrity Dinesh D’Souza—who had pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations but was pardoned by Trump—is based on an alleged examination of cell phone data that Trump supporters claim demonstrates widespread use of ballot drop boxes by people opposed to Trump.

“My opinion then and now is that the election was not stolen by fraud,” Barr told the committee in the videotaped deposition that was played Monday. “And I haven’t seen anything since the election that changes my mind on that, including the 2000 Mules movie.” 

Barr stops himself and starts to laugh. When a member of the committee asked why, he pointed to what he called the “singularly unimpressive” data used by D’Souza to make his false claims.

“Basically, if you take two million cell phones and figure out where they are physically in a big city like Atlanta or wherever, just by definition, you will find many hundreds of them have passed by and spent time in the vicinity of these [drop] boxes and the premise that, you know, if you go by five boxes or whatever it was, that’s a mule is just indefensible.”

And yet that is the premise on which the Assembly Elections Committee met on March 24 and heard from the two right-wing activists who founded the group True the Vote that created the claims shared by D’Souza. Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips presented material they claimed showed “138 people in Milwaukee, Racine, and Green Bay each went near a drop box at least 26 times and near a nongovernmental organization at least five times between Oct. 20 and Nov. 3, 2020,” according to coverage from the Wisconsin State Journal.

But the two refused requests to share detailed data that would prove their claim. And critics were quick to show how cell phone location data alone does not put someone at a drop box, much less dropping off ballots—which are in envelopes, so it’s impossible to tell the votes inside of them.

Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) member Ann Jacobs mentioned at the time that the drop box at one Milwaukee library is directly below an apartment building—filled with digital pings from cell phones, laptop computers, tablets, and other devices from people not physically using the drop box.

In February, Assembly Elections Committee Chair Michelle Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) turned the committee’s time over to a presentation from someone convicted of fraud who was claiming numerous irregularities with the state’s voter database. Only a week later did Brandtjen schedule time for WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe and Technology Director Robert Kehoe to refute the baseless claims.

“Making unverified, fantastical claims without consulting real election officials has the effect of diverting lawmakers and the public from tracking real issues in need of improvement,” Kehoe told the committee. “That could end up causing real harm to Wisconsin elections.”