House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler on Tuesday accused Attorney General William Barr of deploying federal agents to cities wracked by violence as a “prop” to further President Trump’s reelection campaign.
Barr testified during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, the first time the attorney general has appeared before the committee, and was accused of a long list of transgressions by the committee’s Democratic majority, who have suggested he could be impeached.
“Understandably, Americans are very suspicious of your motives here. There are those who believe you are sending federal law enforcement into these cities not to combat violent crime but to help with the president’s reelection efforts,” Nadler told Barr during the hearing.
“Can you commit today that the department will not use federal law enforcement as a prop in the president’s reelection campaign?” the Democratic chairman asked moments later.
“The president wants footage for his campaign ads, and you appear to be serving it up to him as ordered,” Nadler continued, claiming that in most of the cities experiencing violence, the rioting had begun to “wind down” before federal agents confronted demonstrators, who he said “aren’t mobs.”
The Trump administration deployed federal law enforcement agents to Portland after weeks of nightly violence continued to rock the city, where demonstrations have been nearly constant since the police custody death of George Floyd in May. While some protests have been peaceful, demonstrators who remain on the streets after dark have engaged in property destruction, throwing rocks and other projectiles at police, marking buildings with graffiti, and setting fires, especially around two federal courthouses downtown.
Last week, more than 1,000 protesters congregated near the Justice Center and Federal Courthouse downtown and threw incendiary devices over the fence around the federal courthouse, which resulted in a large fire. Federal agents have responded with tear gas and rubber bullets and arrested more than a dozen people over the past week in relation to the protests.
“You are projecting fear and violence nationwide in pursuit of obvious political objectives. Shame on you, Mr. Barr. Shame on you,” Nadler said.
Barr responded that the Democratic chairman has “conflated two different things,” namely the way federal law enforcement handles “predatory violence” and the federal response to demonstrations.
“I just reject the idea that the department has flooded anywhere and attempted to suppress demonstrators,” Barr said. “Portland, the courthouse is under attack. The federal resources are inside the perimeter around the courthouse defending it from almost two months of daily attacks.”
“Three federal officers may have been permanently blinded by lasers that demonstrators pointed at their faces,” Barr added.
“We are on the defense. We’re not out looking for trouble,” Barr said, adding that if Oregon and Portland provided adequate law enforcement, federal agents would not be necessary in Portland’s downtown area.
Later in the hearing, Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said that the presence of federal law enforcement has caused more protesters to show up rather than dissipated the demonstrations.
“The reaction has actually been in reverse proportion. People are showing up because the troops are there,” she said, adding that “most of them are nonviolent.”