Attorney General William BarrBill BarrBarr-Durham investigation again fails to produce a main event Virginia governor's race enters new phase as early voting begins Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' MORE came under blistering criticism from Democrats on Tuesday over a series of decisions he has made as President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE’s leader at the Department of Justice (DOJ), including Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneRoger Stone served with Capitol riot lawsuit during radio interview Lawyer for 17 Jan. 6 defendants says he's been released from hospital Democrats' Jan. 6 subpoena-palooza sets dangerous precedent 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 JeffriesFormer Bad Boy rapper turned politician meets with US lawmakers Watch live: House Democratic leaders hold press conference Congressional staff pay is still too low MORE (D-N.Y.). “All to personally benefit Donald Trump.”
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.
Committee Chairman Jerry NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBiden to raise refugee cap to 125,000 in October Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan Angelina Jolie spotted in Capitol meeting with senators MORE (D-N.Y.) criticized Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanAllies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee Watchdog group seeks ethics probe over McCarthy's Jan. 6 comments 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 JayapalThis week: Democrats face mounting headaches Democrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' Manchin suggests pausing talks on .5 trillion package until 2022: report MORE (D-Wash.) said in one of the more fiery moments of the hearing.
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 BidenHouse clears bill to provide veterans with cost-of-living adjustment On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default To reduce poverty, stop burdening the poor: What Joe Manchin gets wrong about the child tax credit 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 CollinsLoeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run Georgia agriculture commissioner launches Senate campaign against Warnock Poll shows tight GOP primary for Georgia governor 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 DurhamBarr-Durham investigation again fails to produce a main event Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty 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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE's report.
During one tense exchange, Rep. Madeleine DeanMadeleine DeanLiberals tone down calls to 'defund police' amid GOP attacks The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters Democrats weigh next steps on Jan. 6 probe 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.