Attorney General Barr testifies before House Judiciary Committee
Barr was questioned over alleged political interference as head of the Justice Department.
House Democrats have long waited to question U.S. Attorney General William Barr for recent actions he has taken as the country’s top law enforcement.
The last time Barr testified before Congress was to the Senate Judiciary committee on May 1, 2019 about the Mueller Report submitted to the attorney general’s office in March.
On Tuesday, the equivalent committee in the House sought answers from Barr on several matters relating to the use of federal agents in Portland, the Roger Stone case and voting by mail.
The testimony was intended to commence at 10 a.m., but was delayed an hour because the chair of the judiciary committee, Jerrold Nadler, was involved in a minor car accident on his way to Capitol Hill.
Since mid-June, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Portland to condemn police brutality and racial injustice after the murder of George Floyd.
Federal law enforcement arrived on July 4 and demonstrations started to center around a U.S. District courthouse. Once the building had been vandalized, it was the job of the Department of Homeland Security to send the Federal Protective Service.
Instead, the city saw federal agents consisting of U.S. marshals and ICE officers who were not trained in riot control. They aggressively retaliated against the demonstrators and stoked fear when they could not be identified and took some protestors into unmarked vans without reason.
After Nadler started the hearing, he claimed that Barr’s tenure “has been marked by a persistent war against the [Justice] Department’s professional core in an apparent attempt to secure favors for the president.”
After ranking member Jim Jordan made his opening statement, he showed a video used to justify over-policing of cities across the country by only highlighting violent protests where individuals looted stores, attacked police officers and set fire to buildings.
The Attorney General summarized his opening statement by expressing that although the concerns of Black Americans are “legitimate,” it is unfair to categorize all cops as bad and that initiatives to defund the police are baseless.
“In the wake of George Floyd’s death violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests to reek senseless havoc and destruction on innocent victims,” Barr said
Chairman Nadler questioned whether the attorney general was deploying federal agents into cities like Portland to be used as a “prop” in Trump’s reelection campaign.
He connected this to the president’s perceived goal of making the conflict between police and protesters central to his reelection campaign.
Barr was unwilling to disclose whether he has discussed the deployment of federal law enforcement in relation to the general election with President Trump.
He claimed that the only thing the U.S. marshals are doing is protecting the courthouse and said that if state and local enforcement were used, there would be no need for the federal government to intervene.
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee then questioned whether Barr was aware of the effects of systemic racism in America.
“I don’t agree that there’s systemic racism in the police department, general in this country,” the attorney general refuted.
That statement contradicts his earlier remark that the concerns of Black Americans are “legitimate,” since systemic racism propagated by law enforcement are one of the core reasons why people are protesting.
Roger Stone, a conservative political operator and longtime ally to the president, was set to go to federal prison this month after he was charged with witness tampering and lying to Congress about information relating to Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.
President Trump commuted Stone’s sentence on July 10 and Barr advocated to lessen his punishment, but advised against clemency.
“I agree the president’s friends don’t deserve special breaks, but they don’t deserve to be treated more harshly than other people and sometimes that’s a hard decision to make especially when you know you’re going to be castigated for it,” the attorney general said.
Congressman Ted Deutch attacked Barr on his reasoning for wanting to reduce the sentence of Stone. Prosecutors originally recommended giving him between seven and nine years, but the attorney said that it was too long for his age at 67.
Deutch assessed that only a friend of the president could receive a lower sentence even after threatening the life of a witness and there being no underlying health concerns.
Mail-in voting has been hailed as an alternative to physically going to the polls because of the rising cases of COVID-19.
The switch has been politicized after members of the GOP and the president created a narrative that the new process will lead to a fraudulent election.
Congressman Cedric Richmond asked whether the attorney general believes there will be Russian interference in the general election and if the election will be rigged.
Barr suggested that it is safe to assume that Russia will tamper with the election, but said he has no reason to think the election will be rigged.
He strayed from the president when saying he could not see the election being manipulated.
Richmond reminded Barr of this when highlighting a tweet from Trump asserting that mail-in voting will lead to massive fraud because foreign actors could simply print fake ballots.
The head of the Justice Department went on to agree that mail-in voting has a high risk of leading to voter fraud without providing data.