Attorney General Bill Barr went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to defend sending federal agents to Black Lives Matter protests, as well as his own reputation — and he got plenty of backup from the Republican members of the committee.
After a blistering opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee, Barr almost immediately came under fire from chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, who criticized Barr’s involvement in “flooding federal law enforcement into American cities,” “abandoning victims of police brutality,” and for using his office to allegedly defend and further the political goals of President Donald Trump, particularly in the criminal cases of associate Roger Stone and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“In your time as attorney general, you have aided and abetted the president,” Nadler said. “In this Justice Department, the president’s enemies will be punished and his friends will be protected, no matter the cost to liberty, no matter the cost to justice.”
In response, GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking member, launched into a tirade about the Obama administration’s alleged spying on the Trump campaign in 2016, and then played a rather long video combining clips of protests around the country and juxtaposing it with various media figures using the phrase “peaceful protests.” The Trump campaign immediately tweeted out the video.
Over the course of the first three hours of the hearing, Democrats and Republicans, along with Barr, continued to spar over the protests, police brutality, and the politicization of Barr’s DOJ.
Barr thinks the police are under attack more than Black people
After telling Barr that he seems to “have a difficult time understanding systemic racism and institutional racism,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas asked if his department seeks to end systemic racism in law enforcement. “I don’t agree that there’s systemic racism in police departments generally in this country,” Barr responded.
Later, Barr told Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana that cops are less likely to shoot Black suspects than white suspects, without backing it up with evidence. “Police are less likely to shoot at a Black suspect, however that police are more inclined to use non-lethal force in contact with an African-American subject,” Barr said. “In terms of the statistics, that’s what it looks like to me.”
On the other hand, Barr appears to view the protests and the response of protesters to violent police actions as an all-out war on law enforcement. Barr referenced “powerful slingshots with ball bearings” and “pellet guns that have penetrated Marshals to the bone.”
“They use lasers to blind the Marshals,” Barr added, echoing a recent White House claim that three federal law enforcement officials were left “blinded” by protesters pointing lasers at their eyes in Portland. An email to the Department of Homeland Security asking the agency to provide evidence or information to back this claim up was not immediately returned.
Republicans let conspiracy theories about antifa fly
There was no shortage of conspiracy theories and wild claims about antifa on Wednesday, mostly coming from House Republicans on the committee. Republican Louie Gohmert of Texas, whose supporters allegedly assaulted his opponent’s campaign manager over the weekend, claimed that Marxists were behind the “mayhem.”
“Going back to 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Mao Revolution…some of these tactics we're seeing are not new,” Gohmert said, referring to claims by right-wing extremist David Horowitz that Marxists “try to provoke the police to kill somebody so they could really create mayhem.”
“You're familiar with that tactic by Marxists, are you not?" Gohmert asked. Incredibly, Barr responded: “Yes.”
Later, Barr was asked by Republican Matt Gaetz of Florida if antifa was a “terrorist organization,” to which Barr responded that it was an “umbrella network” of groups. “I’m not suggesting it’s a national organization that moves nationally,” Barr said.
Gaetz then floated using RICO laws—famously used to prosecute Mafia figures—to prosecute an “organization like this,” and Barr agreed that antifa attacking federal property was a problem that could “metastasize” if the government doesn’t shut it down.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia takes Barr to task over COVID prison deaths
Rep. Sylvia Garcia took Barr on over the number of COVID cases in federal prisons — more than 10,000, along with 99 deaths — and the administration’s reluctance to release at-risk prisoners, while also releasing former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Garcia showed a picture of Andrea Circle Bear, a woman who died after giving birth on a ventilator in federal prison. “How is it that the former campaign manager of the president of the United States, who did not meet the priority criteria, got released even though your own department admitted he didn’t meet the guidelines, but all of these other folks were not?” Garcia asked.
“A few weeks after this photo, Ms. Bear died along with two other women in this facility from COVID-19,” Garcia said. “You could be saving lives by reducing the prison population. Yet you have blatantly abandoned your duty to these women…because you prioritize giving special favors to the president's friends."
Barr does not like the insinuation he’s Trump’s political lackey
Barr reserved his fiercest criticism, however, for allegations from Democrats that he’s politicized the Justice Department in order to help Trump associates. Earlier this year, Barr contradicted his own prosecutors and asked for a lighter sentence for Trump crony Roger Stone, before Trump later commuted Stone’s sentence altogether.
Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, a Democrat, said Barr’s opening statement sounded like it was written by “Alex Jones or Roger Stone.” Regarding the length of Roger Stone’s sentencing, Barr denied ever discussing the length of Stone’s sentence with the White House, despite President Donald Trump’s tweets advocating for a lighter sentence.
"You think the American people don't understand you were carrying out Trump's wishes?" Johnson asked.
“Let me ask you, do you think it is fair for a 67-year-old man to be sent to prison for 7 to 9 years?" Barr practically yelled, while under questioning from Georgia Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson.
An exchange between Barr and Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida on the same subject was similarly heated. “The judge agreed with me, Congressman,” Barr said, referring to the reduction of Stone’s sentence. “The judge agreed with me."
“Can you think of any other cases where the defendant threatened to kill a witness, threatened a judge, lied to a judge, where the Department of Justice claimed those were mere technicalities? Can you think of even one?” Deutch asked.
“The judge agreed with our analysis,” Barr repeated.
Cover: Attorney General William Barr testifies during a House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 28, 2020. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)