LIVE: Barr defends his controversial intervention in DOJ cases against Trump's allies
- Attorney General William Barr testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in a contentious and aggressive hearing.
- Barr testified about his oversight of law enforcement's crackdown on largely peaceful demonstrations across the nation, as well as his handling of the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
- The hearing was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET but was delayed because committee chairman Jerry Nadler was involved in a car accident on his way to Washington, DC. A spokesperson said Nadler was not hurt.
- Scroll down to follow Business Insider's live coverage and key updates from the hearing.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Attorney General William Barr testified Tuesday on Capitol Hill Tuesday about his oversight of law enforcement's crackdown on anti-racism protests across the nation, as well as his handling of the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Barr is a political lightning rod and has taken center stage as one of President Donald Trump's most loyal defenders since taking office early last year. He was scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee beginning at 10 a.m. ET, but the hearing was delayed after committee chairman Jerry Nadler was involved in a car accident on his way to Washington, DC, on Tuesday morning. Nadler's spokesperson said the New York congressman was not hurt in the accident.
In his opening statement, the attorney general addressed allegations that he functions more as the president's personal defense lawyer instead of the nation's chief law enforcement officer.
"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. "Judging from the letter inviting me to this hearing, that appears to be your agenda today."
Tuesday was the first time Barr testified before the judiciary committee. Under the leadership of Chairman Jerry Nadler, the panel has taken point on investigating the White House and Trump over what Democrats characterize as abuse of power, and it played a critical role in his impeachment last year. Republicans on the committee, meanwhile, accuse their colleagues across the aisle of using their power to harass and distract the president.
Barr told lawmakers on Tuesday that Trump "has not attempted to interfere" in any of the decisions he's made related to the Russia probe.
"My decisions on criminal matters have been left to my independent judgment, based on the law and fact, without any direction or interference from the White House or anyone outside the Department," the attorney general testified.
He also addressed the forceful crackdown by federal law enforcement agents on what have largely been peaceful protests following the Memorial Day death of 46-year-old George Floyd.
The attorney general called the push by left-wing activists to defund the police "grossly irresponsible." He also said that while Floyd's death in police custody was "horrible" and has "jarred the whole country," there is no "deep-seated racism" within the US law enforcement apparatus.
Scroll down for key updates from the hearing:
Barr defends his intervention in the DOJ's cases against Trump allies Michael Flynn and Roger Stone
Republican Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana asked Barr to address allegations that he's acting as a shield for Trump and a sword against his perceived foes.
"I would just ask people, I'm supposedly punishing the president's enemies and helping his friends," Barr said. "What enemies have I indicted? Could you point to one indictment that has been under the department that you feel is unmerited?"
He also addressed his handling of the DOJ's cases against former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the former Republican strategist Roger Stone.
The department is currently asking a court to dismiss its own case against Flynn, saying it no longer believes it has enough evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and acknowledged his guilt to the court twice before later trying to withdraw the plea.
And Trump recently commuted Stone's sentence after Barr and senior DOJ leadership overrode prosecutors working on his case to request a more lenient sentence for the longtime strategist.
Stone was convicted of seven felony counts including witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and lying to Congress.
The cases against the two men were "both cases where I determined that some intervention was necessary to rectify the rule of law, to make sure that people are treated the same," Barr said.
"This is a 67-year-old man, first-time offender, no violence, and they were trying to put him in jail for seven to nine years," Barr added, referring to Stone. "And I wasn't going to advocate that, because that is not the rule of law."
"The president's friends don't deserve special breaks, but they also don't deserve to be treated more harshly than other people," he said.
After Barr intervened in Stone's case, all four line prosecutors on it either resigned from the case or left the department all together. One of the prosecutors on Flynn's case also withdrew as counsel for the government shortly before the DOJ asked a judge to toss out the case, and none of the prosecutors signed onto the motion.
Aaron Zelinsky, a former member of the special counsel Robert Mueller's team who worked on Stone's case, testified to Congress last month that DOJ leaders sought a weaker sentence for Stone at Barr's direction because they were "afraid of the president."
And Jonathan Kravis, another prosecutor who worked on Stone's case and who left the department after Barr intervened, called the Flynn reversal an "appalling" decision that "undercut the work of career employees to protect an ally of the president."
Barr: 'We are on the defense. We're not out looking for trouble'
Nadler accused Barr of deploying federal law enforcement agents to forcibly tamp down on demonstrations and of using excessive force against protesters.
But the attorney general pushed back on Nadler's characterization and mentioned recent protests in Portland that have spiraled out of control. In that case, Barr said, law enforcement officers are the ones who are "under attack."
"We are on the defense, we're not out looking for trouble," Barr said. "And if the state and the city would provide the law enforcement services that other jurisdictions do, we would have no need to have additional marshals in the courthouse."
Portland has seen more than two months of ongoing demonstrations against police brutality following Floyd's death. On Monday, police used tear gas to dispel protesters and labeled a gathering near the city's courthouse "unlawful" after demonstrators threw fireworks and trash over a fence that was erected to guard the courthouse.
Portland mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown have sharply criticized the federal response to the demonstrations and called for them to leave the city, saying the use of tear gas, force, and pulling protesters into unmarked vans is exacerbating tensions.
Meanwhile, a number of groups came out to the city to support protesters and protect them from law enforcement officials. On Monday, a "Wall of Vets" joined with a "Wall of Moms" and "Wall of Dads" to guard demonstrators.
Barr says he's discussed Trump's reelection campaign with him
Nadler opened his questioning by asking Barr if he had discussed Trump's reelection campaign with the president, any White House official, or any surrogate of the president.
"Well, I'm not going to get into my discussions with the president," Barr said.
"Have you discussed the topic with him, yes or no?" Nadler asked.
"Not in relation to this program," the attorney general said, referring to federal law enforcement's approach to dealing with police brutality protests.
"I didn't ask that," Nadler shot back. "I asked if you discussed it —"
Barr said, "I'm a member of the cabinet, and there's an election coming up. Obviously the topic comes up."
"So the answer is yes," Nadler said.
"The topic comes up in cabinet meetings and other things," the attorney general said. "It shouldn't be a surprise that the topic of the election comes up —"
"I didn't say I was surprised," Nadler interjected. "I just asked you if you'd done that."
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan airs misleading and propaganda-like footage of protests
During his opening remarks, Ohio congressman Jim Jordan aired a series of video clips of news anchors and television commentators saying the Floyd protests have been largely peaceful. Jordan then aired video footage showing riots and clashes between law enforcement officers and protesters.
He declined to note that much of the violence connected to the protests has escalated after officers used batons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and other materials to disperse peaceful demonstrators.
Some journalists who were featured in the footage Jordan aired later accused the lawmaker of misconstruing their comments.
Ohio Rep. and ranking member Jim Jordan attacks the 'Obama-Biden DOJ' for 'spying' on the Trump campaign
Ohio congressman Jim Jordan, the ranking member on the committee, kicked off his opening remarks by rehashing many of the talking points Republicans have put out to defend Trump during the Russia investigation.
Jordan, one of the president's biggest attack dogs on Capitol Hill, told Barr that Democrats targeted him because he used the word "spying" to describe the FBI's actions during the 2016 campaign.
"You had the courage to state the truth," Jordan told Barr. "They attacked you, they've been attacking you ever since, every day, every week, for simply stating the truth: that the Obama-Biden administration spied on the Trump campaign."
(Fact check: The DOJ's inspector general, Michael Horowitz, determined after an internal investigation that the FBI did not improperly spy on the Trump campaign.)
The "Obama-Biden DOJ opened the investigation in July , they used a secret agent lady to spy on [former Trump campaign aide George] Papadopoulos in August, they lied to the FISA court in September, and they did all this without any basis for launching the investigation to begin with," Jordan said.
(Fact check: Horowitz's investigation determined that the FBI violated protocol when applying for a warrant to surveil the former Trump campaign foreign-policy aide Carter Page. The inspector general found that the bureau was sloppy in its application and overstated the legal basis for monitoring Page, but he determined that this spoke to a broader problem with US surveillance of citizens rather than a specific, politically motivated attempt to smear candidate Trump, as Republicans have alleged.)
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