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What you need to know about Bill McSwain’s letter to Donald Trump on Pa. voter fraud

Former Attorney General Bill Barr denied claims McSwain made in his letter to Trump, which was an attempt to secure the former president's endorsement.

Bill McSwain, the former top federal prosecutor in Philadelphia (left), wrote a letter to former President Donald Trump seeking his support for a possible run to become Pennsylvania's next governor.
Bill McSwain, the former top federal prosecutor in Philadelphia (left), wrote a letter to former President Donald Trump seeking his support for a possible run to become Pennsylvania's next governor.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO and TIM TAI / Staff Photographers

Bill McSwain, the former top federal prosecutor in Philadelphia, has found himself in an uncomfortable spot thanks to a letter he wrote to former President Donald Trump.

In the letter, McSwain sought Trump’s support ahead of a possible run to become Pennsylvania’s next governor. But he also claimed he had been blocked from going public about allegations of 2020 election problems in Pennsylvania in the letter, which the former president posted online.

Here’s everything you need to know about McSwain, the letter, and the response it has received from Republicans and Democrats:

Who is Bill McSwain?

McSwain, a Republican, is the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Appointed by Trump, McSwain served a three-year term that began in 2018 and ended in January, when he stepped down to make way for a successor who will be appointed by President Joe Biden.

Prior to that, McSwain served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the district, which is based in Philadelphia and covers nine counties.

What’s in the letter that McSwain wrote to Trump?

McSwain wrote a letter to Trump dated June 9 seeking an endorsement for an expected campaign for governor in Pennsylvania in the 2022 election.

In the two-page letter, which Trump revealed Monday night, McSwain suggested he had heard about widespread issues in Pennsylvania, which Biden won. McSwain did not offer any specific examples or issues but called the administration of Pennsylvania’s 2020 election “a partisan disgrace.”

McSwain also claimed he had been blocked from going public about allegations of election problems by then-Attorney General Bill Barr. Trump repeated McSwain’s claim during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas.

You can read the full letter here.

“As U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain prosecuted election fraud in Philadelphia in the past,” McSwain spokesperson Peter Towey said in an email after Trump released the letter. “He was prepared to investigate allegations of election fraud in 2020 but was asked by his superiors to refer cases to the state.”

» READ MORE: Trump is putting Bill McSwain in the hot seat with his election lies. And he just turned up the heat.

Barr sharply disputes McSwain’s claim

Barr sharply denied the claim that he ordered McSwain — the highest-ranking federal prosecutor in Philadelphia at the time — not to investigate allegations of 2020 election fraud. Barr said McSwain is only making the claim now to gain favor with Trump to help his expected gubernatorial bid.

“He told me that he had to do this because he was under pressure from Trump and for him to have a viable candidacy he couldn’t have Trump attacking him,” Barr said of McSwain, telling The Inquirer he confronted the former U.S. attorney about the letter after it was released.

Barr said McSwain wrote the letter “in a very deceptive way” to give the impression he was being held back from looking into voter fraud.

“When I called him I said: ‘It was just the opposite. I put in writing to you and the other U.S. attorneys that you had the discretion to look into any specific, credible allegations of major fraud,’” Barr said.

Barr said his office instructed McSwain to share information involving any serious allegations of voter fraud with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

» READ MORE: Bill Barr says Bill McSwain wanted to just ‘flap his gums,’ not investigate 2020 election fraud

Shapiro says he received no allegations

Shapiro, widely seen as the early Democratic front-runner in the 2022 governor’s race, said McSwain didn’t report any of the supposed fraud allegations.

“We received and sent multiple referrals to local, state and federal law enforcement, but received no direct referrals from Mr. McSwain’s office,” Shapiro spokesperson Jacklin Rhoads said. “This personal note to President Trump, sent seven months after the election, is the first our office has heard of Mr. McSwain’s concerns.”

What has McSwain said?

McSwain has not responded to interview requests from The Inquirer but told the Washington Post that despite Barr’s denials, he stood by what he wrote.

“If Attorney General Barr is claiming that I was not told to make referrals to the state attorney general’s office, I assume he is simply not remembering what happened or that he wasn’t always involved in the details,” McSwain told the Post. “As a prosecutor, all I wanted was the freedom to follow the evidence where it leads.”

While McSwain complained about Barr’s directive, his letter made no specific allegations of fraud. He again refused to go into specifics in an interview on Talk Radio 1210-WPHT’s conservative Dom Giordano Show.

“I’m not making any judgments about what I would or would not have found,” McSwain said. “But what I didn’t like was that I wasn’t free to follow the evidence wherever it leads.”

Other Pennsylvania Republicans are supporting Trump and his election lies

McSwain is just one of a group of Republicans referencing false election claims in hope of garnering Trump’s support for a 2022 run for governor.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin), a likely gubernatorial candidate and a leading election denier in Pennsylvania, has threatened to subpoena Philadelphia and two other counties if they don’t agree to turn over election-related equipment as part of a partisan, Arizona-style review.

Lou Barletta, a former congressman and gubernatorial hopeful who has refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory, was an early and outspoken supporter of Trump who has repeatedly called for an investigation of Pennsylvania’s election results.

» READ MORE: Supporting Trump’s election lies is becoming a litmus test for Pennsylvania Republicans seeking higher office

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Pennsylvania

There is no evidence to support the conspiracy theory that widespread voter fraud affected the 2020 election in Pennsylvania or across the country. Even Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security declared the 2020 election the most secure in American history.

In Pennsylvania, Biden defeated Trump by 80,555 votes, a margin greater than Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 (44,292 votes). Nationally, Biden won the Electoral College, 306-232, and received more than seven million more votes overall than Trump.

“The big lie is just that: a big lie,” Biden said in Philadelphia during a speech on voting rights Tuesday. “You don’t call facts ‘fake’ and then try to bring down the American experiment just because you’re unhappy. That’s not statesmanship, that’s selfishness. That’s not democracy, that’s the denial of the right to vote. It suppresses. It subjugates.”

» READ MORE: Fact-checking false claims about Pennsylvania’s presidential election by Trump and his allies

Staff writers Chris Brennan, Jeremy Roebuck, and Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.