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Democrats blister Barr during tense hearing

Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Merrick Garland on list to be Biden's attorney general: report DOJ dropping charges against ex-Mexican defense minister MORE came under blistering criticism from Democrats on Tuesday over a series of decisions he has made as President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE’s leader at the Department of Justice (DOJ), including Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneWashington braces for unpredictable post-election period Like it or not, a Trump self-pardon may be coming soon This election is headed to the courts, but Democrats have lawyers too MORE's prosecution, the use of federal police in U.S. cities and allegations that DOJ has become politicized under his leadership.

Democrats sought to paint Barr, making his first appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, as a Trump loyalist who has sought to shield the president and his allies from scrutiny, all while seeking to help Trump project the image of a law-and-order president ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

“The job of the attorney general is to defend the best interests of the people and serve as the people's lawyer, but during your time as attorney general you have consistently undermined democracy, undermined the Constitution and undermined the health, safety and well-being of the American people,” said Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesHouse Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress Nominated for another Speaker term, Pelosi says it's her last Katherine Clark secures No. 4 leadership spot for House Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.). “All to personally benefit Donald Trump.”

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Barr dismissed the allegations lobbed at him throughout the course of the roughly five-hour hearing, arguing that he has worked to “restore the rule of law” after the DOJ “strayed” from its mission before his tenure.

Republicans also leaned into a fierce defense of Barr, joining him in blasting Democrats for failing to denounce rioters who have violently clashed with federal agents in recent weeks.

“What makes me concerned for the country is, for the first time in my memory, that the leaders of one of our great two political parties, the Democratic Party, are not coming out and condemning mob violence and the attacks on federal courts,” Barr said.

“Why can’t we just come out and say violence against federal courts has to stop? Could we hear something like that?” the attorney general added.

Both Democrats and Barr from the start came out swinging at one another, matching expectations that the hearing would devolve into a combative, political cage match. 

Democrats frequently cut off Barr’s responses, prompting complaints from Republicans and the attorney general.

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Committee Chairman Jerry NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDemocrats accuse GSA of undermining national security by not certifying Biden win Barr sparks DOJ firestorm with election probes memo Marijuana stocks see boost after Harris debate comments MORE (D-N.Y.) criticized Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanCheney, top GOP lawmakers ask Trump campaign for proof of election fraud New RSC chairman sees 'Trumpism' as future Sunday shows preview: Biden team gears up for transition, Trump legal battles continue and pandemic rages on MORE (Ohio), the ranking Republican, as rude at one point.

When Nadler initially denied Barr’s request for a brief recess toward the end of the marathon hearing, Barr noted he waited an hour on Nadler after he was in a minor car crash ahead of the hearing. 

“You’re a real class act, Mr. Chairman,” Barr said.

An unsubtle 2020 undertone was present as Democrats sought to pin the Trump administration for failing to get a grasp on the coronavirus pandemic, and Republicans pushed the narrative that Democrats are afraid to stand up to rioters and are letting cities devolve into violence.

Democrats in particular cast Barr as mostly focused on doing the president’s bidding on everything from antitrust investigations to prosecutions of the president’s friends.

In February, the DOJ intervened in the Stone case to recommend a prison sentence lower than the seven to nine years suggested by career prosecutors, four of whom withdrew from the case in protest over the move. Stone was ultimately sentenced to more than three years in prison, and Trump later commuted the sentence just days before his former adviser was scheduled to report to prison.

Judiciary heard testimony last month from a pair of whistleblowers who accused Barr of having politicized the department, but Barr said he felt Stone was the one being treated unfairly.

“I agree the president's friends don’t deserve special breaks, but they also don’t deserve to be treated more harshly than other people and sometimes that is a different decision to make … but that is what rule of law is,” Barr said.

Barr also defended the stunning move by Justice to drop criminal charges against Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, even though he had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with a Russian diplomat in late 2016. A federal appeals court is weighing whether to allow the DOJ to withdraw the charges.

Barr said that the FBI investigation that led to Flynn’s questioning had been plagued with problems and that he no longer believed that the prosecution was supported by the facts.

A focus for Democrats throughout the hearing was the administration’s decision to send federal police to Portland.

“You are supposed to represent the people of the United States of America, not violate people's First Amendment rights, you are supposed to uphold democracy and secure equal justice under the law, not violently dismantle certain protesters based on the president's personal agenda,” Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalBiden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Trump, attorneys step up efforts to reverse election's outcome MORE (D-Wash.) said in one of the more fiery moments of the hearing.

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Jordan set the tone for Republicans at the beginning of the hearing by showing a selectively edited 10-minute video highlighting moments of violence at protests around the country. It was preceded by images of Democrats, including former President Obama and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Biden says staff has spoken with Fauci: 'He's been very, very helpful' MORE, describing protests as peaceful.

The GOP members repeatedly argued that an aggressive law enforcement response was necessary to quell violent protests.

“We’re seeming to just contort ourselves to get to some way to show that you have nefarious motives,” said Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsMajority say they want GOP in control of Senate: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans Georgia secretary of state says wife has received threatening texts about recount MORE (R-Ga.).

The hearing frequently devolved into shouting matches between Democratic lawmakers and Barr as well as between committee members. Democrats also said they were worried about what Barr might do before the presidential election.

Barr did not agree to withhold releasing the report being compiled by John DurhamJohn DurhamHaspel not in attendance at latest Trump intelligence briefing: reports Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up The biggest election losers: Political media and pollsters MORE, a U.S. attorney who is investigating the origins of the Russia investigation, stating that he will go off of his judgment as to whether such a report would “disrupt” the upcoming presidential race. Barr has previously said he expects the report to be released this summer.

The back-and-forth exchanges also showed how much pent up frustration there was among Democrats ahead of the hearing. Tuesday’s appearance was Barr’s first before the panel, and Democrats have long said they have wanted to hear from Barr, stemming back to his handling of the release of former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE's report.

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During one tense exchange, Rep. Madeleine DeanMadeleine DeanEyes turn to Ocasio-Cortez as she seeks to boost Biden Democrats blister Barr during tense hearing Democratic lawmakers launch 'Mean Girls'-inspired initiative to promote face masks MORE (D-Pa.) repeatedly admonished Barr for interrupting her questioning.

“We’ve waited a long time for you to come here. The time is mine,” Dean said.

“You waited to talk to me like this? You didn’t need to wait so long,” Barr responded.