Attorney General Bill Barr faced fiery questioning from Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday on matters ranging from the Roger Stone and Gen. Michael Flynn cases, to the militarized federal response to ongoing racial justice protests.
Democratic Chair Jerry Nadler in his opening statement accused Barr of “twisting the Department of Justice into a shadow of itself” by acting as a sword and shield for President Donald Trump.
Barr appeared ready for a fight, judging from the opening statement he released Monday, in which he attacked the Russia probe as “bogus” and railed against protesters who have taken to the streets following the killing of George Floyd.
House Republicans, too, came loaded for bear. Armed with a 49-page list of “pre-buttals” — that is, responses for Democratic criticism of Barr — the first word ranking Republican Jim Jordan spoke was “spying.” Jordan used his opening statement to attack the origins of the Russia probe, accuse Congressional Democrats of conspiring against Flynn and play a lengthy supercut of isolated violent incidents at protests.
You can live stream the hearing here, via C-SPAN.
Here’s what you need to know:
Nadler Accused Barr of Malfeasance Regarding: Coronavirus Stay-At-Home Orders, the Michael Flynn Case, the Firing of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, the Mueller Report & More
Nadler’s opening statement consisted of a litany of abuses he and other House Democrats claim Barr has either perpetrated as Attorney General, or allowed to go on. He noted that some of the objectives of the DOJ since its inception in the mid-1800s have been “stemming the tide of systemic racism” and enforcing the country’s civil rights laws.
“Not every attorney general in the last 150 years has given full expression to these goals; every administration has fallen short in some way,” Nadler said. “Today, under your leadership, those objectives are more at risk … you have waged a persistent war against the department’s professional core in an attempt to secure favor with the president.”
Nadler accused Barr of using force against citizens exercising their First Amendment rights, spreading misinformation about voter fraud, misrepresenting the Mueller report on potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia and intervening in criminal cases that Trump has a personal interest in.
“Your willingness to shield President Trump from accountability demonstrates a real threat to the liberty and safety of this country,” Nadler said.
Under Barr’s leadership, the DOJ’s credo has become, “The presidents enemies will be punished and his friends will be protected no matter the cost to liberty, no matter the cost to justice,” Nadler added.
Barr Said He Uses ‘Independent Judgment to Make Whatever Call’ He Thinks Is Right & Downplayed Police Brutality Against Black Americans
Barr, in his opening statement, first recognized Rep. John Lewis, who died last weekend. He noted Lewis’s “unwavering commitment to non-violence” and contrasted it with ongoing protests he characterized as violent and lawless.
The attorney general also attacked Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, referring to it as “Russiagate” and characterizing it as a series of “grave abuses.” Democratic attacks on his leadership are attempts to discredit him because of his investigations into the origins of the Russia probe, he said.
Barr then defended himself against accusations of acting as an enforcer and protector for Trump. He vowed that all criminal cases are “handled evenhandedly, based on the law and the facts and without regard to political or personal considerations,” and said that Trump has not tried to get in the middle of any of his decisions in criminal matters.
Barr also said in his opening statement that, despite legitimate fear within the Black community and outrage over the killing of Floyd, more unarmed white men have been killed this year than Black men, and the overall number of police shootings is in a downward trend.
“Nevertheless, every instance of excessive force is unacceptable and must be addressed, as it happening now in Minneapolis,” Barr said.
“I think these concerns are legitimate,” he later added. “At the same time, I think it would be an oversimplification to treat the problem as rooted in some deep-seated racism generally infecting our police departments. It seems far more likely that the problem stems from a complex mix of factors, which can be addressed with focused attention over time.”
Rep. David Cicilline Asked Barr if it Is ‘Ever Appropriate for a President to Solicit or Accept Foreign Assistance in an Election’ & Barr Had Difficulty Answering
Rhode Island Democratic Rep. David Cicilline grilled Barr on Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia probe, soliciting an awkward moment for Barr.
Cicilline accused Barr of mischaracterizing the Mueller report with his summary, which he released before the full report came out in April 2019. Barr left the “American people stewing with your misleading summary in support of President Trump’s bogus claims of ‘no collusion, no corruption,'” Cicilline said, before asking a direct question.
“Is it ever appropriate for a president to solicit or accept foreign assistance in an election?” Cicilline asked.
Barr said, “It depends on what kind of assistance.”
“Is it ever appropriate for the president or a presidential candidate to solicit r accept foreign assistance of any kind in an election,” Cicilline repeated.
After a pause, Barr answered, “No, it’s not.”
“Ok. I’m sorry you had to struggle with that one, Mr. Attorney General,” Cicilline said.
Rep. Cedric Richmond Accused the Justice Department of Systemic Racism’ & Asked Barr to ‘Keep John Lewis’ Name Out of the Department’s Mouth’
In his opening statement, Barr had kind words for the late Rep. John Lewis, who he called an “indomitable champion of civil rights and the rule of law.”
Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, of Louisiana, thanked Barr for his “eloquent” words, but took the attorney general — and the Department of Justice as a whole — to task for, according to him, furthering systemic racism.
“One thing you have in common with your two predecessors, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is, when you all came here with your top staff, you brought no Black people,” Richmond said. “That, sir, is systematic racism. That is exactly John Lewis spent his life fighting. So, I would just suggest that actions speak louder than words and you really should keep the name of the Honorable John Lewis out of the Department of Justice’s mouth.”