Attorney General William Barr testifies before House lawmakers on Tuesday to defend himself from accusations that he acted on behalf of President Trump and abused his power in the Justice Department.
Attorney General William Barr testifies before House lawmakers to defend himself against a litany of offenses, ranging from his handling of protestors in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, to his involvement in protecting President Trump from the Russia probe, and his move last month to oust a prominent U.S. attorney.
House Democrats now accuse Barr of acting on President Trump’s behalf, but they wanted Barr to appear before them for a long time. Republican lawmakers will use the opportunity to question Barr about the FBI’s actions in the Russia probe, which Barr requested U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate.
In his opening statement, Barr refuted efforts to discredit him as Trump’s right-hand man. He said, "the President has not attempted to interfere in these decisions. On the contrary, he has told me from the start that he expects me to exercise my independent judgment, to make whatever call I think is right, and that's precisely what I've done."
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York, continues to investigate several of Barr’s actions and threatened to subpoena the attorney general before they agreed on Tuesday’s appearance before the House. Nadler was involved in a car accident before the hearing which caused its delay. He is uninjured.
Though talks of Barr’s impeachment circulated throughout the past month, Nadler said pursuing impeachment would be a “waste of time” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also dismissed that possibility.
In June, as the nation was swept up in protests after the murder of George Floyd, protestors gathered around Lafayette Square as President Trump made way to the St. John’s Church for a photo. Barr spearheaded the decision to forcibly remove peaceful protestors from the site, an action that drew widespread backlash.
On Tuesday, before lawmakers, Barr defended federal response to the protests, as well as the deployment of federal troops in Portland, Oregon, where protests continued for more than 50 days. Some protestors in Portland claimed they were detained by federal officers in unmarked vans.
"In the wake of George Floyd's death violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests to wreak senseless havoc and destruction on innocent victims," Barr said.
Trump and Barr defended the deployment of troops, saying that the Department of Justice has an obligation to protect federal property.
“We should all be able to agree that there is no place in this country for armed mobs that seek to establish autonomous zones beyond government control, or tear down statues and monuments that law-abiding communities chose to erect, or to destroy the property and livelihoods of innocent business owners,” said Barr.
Republicans on the panel championed Barr as a defender of the rule of law from those who use Floyd’s death as cover to attack police. The top Republican of the panel, Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, played a lengthy video of spliced clips showing protestors violently clashing with police officers as part of his opening statement.
“You’ve got all this violence going on, and Democratic mayors in these cities across the country are just bowing to the mob, and yet they try to criticize the attorney general when his using federal law enforcement is protecting federal property and, more importantly, enforcing federal law,” said Jordan.
Barr also said he disagrees with the suggestion that racism is systemic in the U.S. in response to questioning from Representative Sheila Lee Jackson, Democrat of Texas. Barr’s beliefs contradict significant evidence that suggests systemic racism is widespread in the U.S.
“I don’t agree there's systemic racism in the police department, generally in this country,” Barr said.
Barr defended his involvement in the Roger Stone and Michael Flynn cases, which many denounced as Barr’s attempts to politicize the Justice Department.
In November, as part of former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, a court convicted Stone of seven charges including lying to Congress and witness tampering. Earlier this month Trump commuted Stone’s prison sentence, alarming many lawmakers who view the move as an abuse of power.
Though Barr said he believes Stone should go to jail, he added that Stone’s sentence was “more than twice than anyone else in a similar position had ever served."
When questioned by Representative Hank Johnson, Democrat of Georgia, who accused Barr of “carrying out Trump’s will,” Barr responded he had not discussed his sentencing recommendation with anyone at The White House or The Justice Department.
"I agree the President's friends don't deserve special breaks, but they also don't deserve to be treated more harshly than other people, and sometimes that's a difficult decision to make especially when you know you are going to be castigated for it,” said Barr. “But that is what the rule of law is and that's what fairness to the individual ultimately comes to. Being willing to do what's fair to the individual."
Barr also faced criticism for his personal intervention in the criminal case against Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, even though Flynn pleaded guilty.
“Are you the A.G. for the country, or are you the A.G. for the president?” said Representative Karen Bass, Democrat of California. “Do you represent the American people, or is it your job to protect, to cover up and to facilitate corruption?”
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