Attorney General William Barr testified before Congress on Tuesday that « violent rioters and anarchists » have « hijacked » the protests over George Floyd’s death « to wreak senseless havoc and destruction on innocent victims. »
In prepared remarks, Barr also offered a full-throated defense of his much-criticized conduct in the federal probe of Russian election interference, slamming the « bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal » and asserting President Donald Trump has not acted inappropriately.
Barr was set to deliver the statement before the House Judiciary Committee, where he faces a hostile audience in the panel’s Democratic majority.
« Your tenure is marked by a persistent war against the department’s professional core in an apparent effort to secure favors for the president, » Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said in his own opening remarks.
« In your time at the department, you have aided and abetted the worst failings of this president, » Nadler said.
The hearing comes more than a month after Nadler threatened to subpoena Barr to testify following the firing of Geoffrey Berman as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
In June, Barr announced that Berman was « stepping down. » Berman’s office at the time was reportedly engaged in an investigation into Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani. Berman initially refused to leave, saying he would only do so when his replacement was confirmed by the Senate. Barr then told Berman in a letter that Trump had fired him.
Barr’s spokeswoman announced on June 24 the attorney general had accepted an invitation for a « general oversight hearing. » The hearing marks Barr’s first-ever appearance before the House Judiciary panel during his tenure in the Trump administration and his first session before Congress in over a year.
The hearing was originally set for 10 a.m. ET, but was delayed until around 11 a.m. following a « minor accident, » a spokesman for the committee told CNBC. Nadler added at the hearing that he was involved in a « minor car accident. »
Rep. Jim Jordan, the committee’s top Republican, launched into his opening statement by decrying the Russia probe as a coordinated effort by Democrats to undermine Trump.
The ranking Republican then showed a lengthy video comprising dozens of clips of violence and property destruction apparently carried out during the recent spate of riots.
Barr’s opening statement, published Monday evening by multipleÂ outlets, did not directly address Berman’s ouster.Â Rather, Barr accused Democrats on the panel of using the hearing to further their attempts « 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. »
He said Trump « has not attempted to interfere » in criminal matters under the attorney general’s purview. « From my experience, the President has played a role properly and traditionally played by Presidents, » he said.
Barr’s statement focused in large part on Floyd, a Black man whose death while unarmed at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis sparked a massive wave of protests across the U.S.
Floyd’s killing « understandably jarred the whole country and forced us to reflect on longstanding issues in our nation, » Barr’s statement said. « Given our history it is understandable that, among black Americans, there is at least some ambivalence, and often distrust, toward the police. »
But events like Floyd’s death are « fortunately quite rare » nowadays, Barr said. He warned that the « demonization » of police, and the « grossly irresponsible proposals » to defund them, are « gravely injurious to our inner city communities. »
Barr defended the deployment of federal law enforcement officers to cities like Portland, Oregon, where clashes between police and demonstrators have become increasingly violent.
« What unfolds nightly around the courthouse cannot reasonably be called a protest; it is, by any objective measure, an assault on the Government of the United States, » Barr said.
« To state what should be obvious, peaceful protesters do not throw explosives into federal courthouses, tear down plywood with crowbars, or launch fecal matter at federal officers. Such acts are in fact federal crimes under statutes enacted by this Congress. »
Barr’s statement urged all members of the House Judiciary Committee to « condemn violence against federal officers and destruction of federal property. »
« To tacitly condone destruction and anarchy is to abandon the basic rule-of-law principles that should unite us even in a politically divisive time, » he said.
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News – Attorney General Bill Barr set to rail against ‘bogus’ Russia probe, ‘violent rioters,’ in testimony before Congress