Attorney General Bill Barr clashed with Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday over accusations that he is carrying out President Trump’s political wishes, as he appeared for a long-awaited hearing where tensions also flared over protests and riots following George Floyd’s death in police custody, Fox News reported.
The hearing, originally scheduled for 10 a.m. local time, was delayed after committee chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., was in a car accident. Nadler did not suffer any injuries.
Once the hearing began, which lasted until mid-afternoon, Nadler did not hesitate to express his scorn for Barr and his Justice Department.
“Thank you for being here, Mr. Barr,” Nadler said with a note of sarcasm, pointing out that this was the attorney general’s first time appearing before the committee.
The chairman went on to claim that Barr and his department have “downplayed the effects of systemic racism” in the wake of Floyd’s death and ongoing protests.
Addressing the department’s approach to cases related to the Russia probe, Nadler summed up the DOJ’s attitude by claiming that “the President’s enemies will be punished, his friends will be protected,” no matter the cost, and saying that the DOJ’s actions have caused “real damage to our democratic norms.”
“In your time at the department, you have aided and abetted the worst failings of the president,” Nadler said.
Ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, fired back in his opening that Democrats’ hostility toward Barr is based on one thing: “Spying.”
Jordan said that Democrats took exception to Barr accusing the Obama administration of spying on the Trump campaign, despite evidence that has come out revealing flaws in the FBI’s process in acquiring a warrant to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Jordan also pointed to evidence that the FBI engaged in questionable tactics in investigating Michael Flynn, whose criminal case the DOJ requested be dismissed. At another point in the hearing, Barr affirmed earlier reporting that he has appointed U.S. Attorney John Bash of the Western District of Texas to investigate the practice of “unmasking” Americans who have had conversations with foreign officials.
Jordan then addressed the ongoing unrest in the U.S., showing a lengthy montage of media clips that began with reporters calling the incidents “peaceful protests” and then going into a string of clips of violence and fires in various parts of the country.
Barr, speaking next with his opening remarks, did not shy away from Democrats’ accusations against him. He insisted that he acts independently of the President and that his goal is to make sure that everyone is treated equally under the law.
He emphatically stated that Trump “has not attempted to interfere” in decisions regarding the handling of criminal matters.
“On the contrary, he has told me from the start that he expects me to exercise my independent judgment to make whatever call I think is right,” he continued. “That is precisely what I have done.”
Barr also addressed the racial tension following Floyd’s death. While acknowledging the tragedy, he defended the criminal justice system by arguing that in the past 50 years progress has been made and that any racism on the part of individual officers is not due to “some deep-seated racism generally infecting our police departments.” He noted that “[p]olice forces today are far more diverse than ever before.”