Attorney General William Barr is defending the federal response to recent nationwide unrest ahead of his scheduled testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
The rule of law must be upheld as “violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests to wreak senseless havoc and destruction,” he said in a written opening statement released late Monday.
In early July, the government began deploying agents to Portland to protect federal property and has since threatened to send agents to an increasing number of cities experiencing unrest. Protestors in Portland are suing the Trump administration, accusing federal agents of violating protesters’ constitutionally protected freedom of speech, freedom from unreasonable seizures, and right to due process.
“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,” Barr said.
Tuesday’s hearing will offer Barr an opportunity to address the protest response, as well as his decisions regarding the Russia investigation and other issues like voter fraud.
He has never appeared before the House judiciary panel, which has oversight responsibility for the Justice Department, and he has not testified before Congress since May 2019, when he answered questions about the Mueller report before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Ever since I made it clear that I was going to do everything I could to get to the bottom of the grave abuses involved in the bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal, many of the Democrats on this committee have attempted to discredit me by conjuring up a narrative that I am simply the president’s factotum who disposes of criminal cases according to his instructions,” Barr said, adding that he had acted independently and “without partisan considerations.”
Democrats will ask about Barr’s recommendation that President Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone receive a shorter prison sentence on seven felony crimes and to drop a charge against the former national security adviser Michael Flynn, though he had pleaded guilty.
“Are you the A.G. for the country, or are you the A.G. for the president?” said Representative Karen Bass (D., Calif.), the author of a policing overhaul bill that Barr opposes. “Do you represent the American people, or is it your job to protect, to cover up and to facilitate corruption?”
Democrats will also question Barr about the politicization of high-profile criminal and antitrust cases, including his scrutinizing California emissions deal with automakers after the president attacked the deal. They may also question Barr on Trump’s decision to fire Manhattan’s stop federal prosecutor, Geoffrey S. Berman last month.
But Republicans are expected to laud Barr as a defender of the rule of law.
“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 federal law enforcement is protecting federal property and, more importantly, enforcing federal law,” said Representative Jim Jordan (R., Ohio).
“The attorney general is doing an outstanding job,” he added.
The hearing is expected to last most of the day with each of the committee’s 40 members receiving five minutes to question Barr.