By ALEXANDER MALLIN, KATHERINE FAULDERS and LUKE BARR, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Attorney General William Barr is set to testify before the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday for the first time in his year-and-a-half long tenure as the nation’s top law enforcement official.
Democrats hope to grill him over a long list of controversies and his repeated interventions in matters of interest to President Donald Trump.
Barr’s appearance follows more than a year of stand-offs and delays — he hasn’t appeared before any congressional committee since May 2019 when he testified to a Senate panel on his handling of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — later declining to appear before the House.
Here’s how the hearing unfolded, please refresh this page for updates:
12:40 p.m. Barr asks for a recess
Barr asks for a recess, and the House Judiciary hearing stands adjourned for approximately five minutes.
12:06 p.m. Barr pushes back against accusations he has politicized the DOJ, says officers are “on the defense” in Portland
Nadler begins his line of questioning noting that Barr incorrectly stated at a July 22 press conference at the White House that the pilot launch of “Operation Legend” in Kansas City had yielded 200 arrests in a span of mere weeks.
“Correct,” Barr said, when Nadler noted Barr “misspoke.”
“Operation Legend” in Kansas City has, in fact, had only resulted in one arrest in Kansas City at the time Barr made his remarks.
Nadler uses the exchange to try to accuse Barr of wielding the Justice Department’s powers to assist in Trump’s campaign for reelection. He pushes him to answer whether he’s discussed the campaign with Trump, and Barr acknowledges it has come up in conversations but seeks to disconnect that from law enforcement matters.
Barr repeatedly pushes back, saying he rejects the idea that the department has sought to suppress protests rather than arrest those committing violence and vandalism of federal property. He also argues Nadler was conflating the anti-crime initiative under “Operation Legend” and the deployment of federal officers to cities where rioters have threatened federal property.
"We're not out looking for trouble."
Bill Barr defends federal law enforcement actions in Portland, Oregon: "Federal courts are under attack. Since when is it okay to try to burn down a federal court?" https://t.co/TtCZXxSTLG pic.twitter.com/s2hrpAZRdA
— ABC News (@ABC) July 28, 2020
In his first exchange with a Republican on the committee, Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, Barr seeks to negate claims that he has politicized the Justice Department.
“What enemies [of the administration] have I indicted? Could you point to one indictment?” Barr said. “You you say I helped the president’s friends. The cases that are cited, the Stone case and the Flynn case, are both cases where I determined that some intervention was necessary to rectify the rule of law.”
He repeats that he believes the prosecution of Roger Stone was “righteous” and that he only intervened out of a belief that the prosecutors initially recommended an excessive sentence for him.
“The president’s friends don’t deserve special breaks but they also don’t deserve to be treated more harshly than other people,” Barr said.
Asked if he believes the role of the attorney general was to be the “president’s wingman,” as Eric Holder one referred to himself, Barr answers, “No, I have already described what I think the duty of the attorney general is.”
He adds of the actions by federal officers in Portland that they are largely, “on the defense” against violent rioters trying to damage the courthouse.
“We are not looking for trouble,” Barr said. “If the state and city would provide the law enforcement services that other jurisdictions do we would have no need for additional Marshals in the courthouse.”
11:46 a.m. Barr says Justice Department operates independent from Trump
In his opening remarks, Barr defends his “independent judgment” in Justice Department handlings, insisting he has not inappropriately acted to please the president.
“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.”
Barr went on to say Trump “has not attempted to interfere” in his prosecutorial decisions, which might include lessening the sentencing recommendation for the president’s longtime friend and campaign adviser Roger Stone and the move to dismiss charges against his first national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Bill Barr says Pres. Trump “has told me from the start that he expects me to exercise my independent judgement.”
— ABC News (@ABC) July 28, 2020
“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,” Barr said.
11:33 a.m. Nadler says Barr has “aided and abetted the worst failings” of Trump, Jordan goes after Russia investigation, playing video of violence around protests
After saying he’s fine after a minor car accident on the way to the hearing, Nadler opens by portraying Barr as a corrupt actor blatantly bending the power of the nation’s top law enforcement agency to benefit Trump personally and politically.
“Your tenure has been marked by a persistent war against the department’s professional core in an apparent attempt to secure favors for the president,” Nadler said. “In your time at the department, you have aided and abetted the worst failings of the president.”
He took Barr to task for the department’s recent actions against protesters and its handling of the unrest in Portland and Seattle, where Barr has defended the actions of federal officers sent to protect federal courthouses.
“Others have lost sight of the importance of civil rights law, but now we see the full force of the federal government brought to bear against citizens demonstrating for the advancement of their own civil rights,” Nadler said. “There is no precedent for the Department of Justice to actively seek out conflict with American citizens under such flimsy pretext or for such petty purposes.”
House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler to Attorney General Bill Barr: “Your tenure has been marked by a persistent war against the Department’s professional corps in an apparent attempt to secure favors for the president.” https://t.co/TtCZXxSTLG pic.twitter.com/0Zip28TdhD
— ABC News (@ABC) July 28, 2020
Nadler went on to preview several controversies that House Democrats will look to confront Barr on, including but not limited to the deployment of federal law enforcement to cities experiencing unrest and protests, unfounded statements regarding mass voter fraud, and “amplifying” conspiracies coming from Trump by investigating the investigators who launched the Russia probe.
“The message these actions send is clear, in this Justice Department the president’s enemies will be punished and his friends will be protected no matter the cost, no matter the cost of liberty, no matter the cost of justice,” Nadler said. “The administration has twisted the Department of Justice into a shadow of its former self capable of serving most Americans only after it has first served those in power. This committee has a responsibility to protect Americans from that kind of corruption, Mr. Barr.”
Republican ranking member Jim Jordan then took over, using his remarks to highlight alleged abuses in the beginnings of the Russia investigation.
“Spying, that one word. That’s why they are after you, Mr. Attorney General,” Jordan said.
Jordan then introduced a roughly 10-minute long video splicing clips from the media and other politicians referring to protests around the country as “peaceful protests” side- by-side with clips of violence and an emotional statement from a family member of retired St. Louis Police Captain David Dorn, who was shot and killed by looters in the city on June 2.
9:38 a.m. Hearing delayed after Nadler in car accident
A committee source confirms House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., was in a car accident on his was to the hearing, but he is okay and was en route to Capitol Hill in a cab.
The car hit something, but Nadler is not injured.
The hearing will be delayed for at least 45 minutes.
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