Attorney General Barr faces down House Judiciary Committee: ‘If it’s a hearing, shouldn’t I be heard?’

“it wasn’t anything like an actual hearing, and they didn’t want him to testify — as in actually answer questions.”

By AP and World Israel News Staff  

If it’s a “hearing,” Attorney General Bill Barr asked, “aren’t I the one who’s supposed to be heard?”

The answer appeared to be a resounding no at the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday in which angry, skeptical Democrats continuously cut Barr off and pontificated in the time allotted for questioning. As a result, little new ground was uncovered.

Andrew C. McCarthy, former Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in an op-ed, “it wasn’t anything like an actual hearing, and they didn’t want him to testify — as in actually answer questions.”

It was rather “a coveted election-year opportunity for Democrats to berate the attorney general of the United States,” he wrote, noting the Democrats, led by Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), even accused Barr of being responsible for killing thousands of coronavirus victims, though it was unclear exactly how.

Barr proved an impossible witness to crack, answering questions soberly and succinctly when allowed to. He defended the federal law enforcement response to civil unrest in America as he testified for the first time before the Committee, pushing back against Democrats who said President Donald Trump’s administration is unconstitutionally suppressing dissent.

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The hearing highlighted the wide election-year gulf between the two parties on police brutality and systemic racism in law enforcement. Massive protests have sparked unrest across the nation following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

But Barr said “violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests” and argued the violence taking place in Portland, Oregon, and other cities is disconnected from Floyd’s killing, which he called a “horrible” event that prompted a necessary national reckoning on the relationship between the Black community and law enforcement. But he also said there was no systemic racism in law enforcement.

“Largely absent from these scenes of destruction are even superficial attempts by the rioters to connect their actions to George Floyd’s death or any legitimate call for reform,” Barr said of the Portland protests.

The hearing marks Barr’s first appearance before the committee after 18 months in office, bringing him face-to-face with the panel that voted last year to hold him in contempt and is holding hearings on what Democrats say is politicization of the Justice Department under his watch.

The top Republican on the panel, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, used his opening statement to show an eight-minute video that spliced together images of violence by protesters around the country.

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Nadler said Barr had “aided and abetted” Trump’s worst impulses and excoriated him and the Justice Department for turning a blind eye to necessary reforms to police departments, for dismissing Black Lives Matter protests and for flooding streets with federal agents to stop protesters.

“As elected officials of the federal government, every member of this committee — regardless of your political views or your feelings about the Trump administration — should condemn violence against federal officers and destruction of federal property,” Barr said.

Civil unrest escalated in Portland after federal agents were accused of whisking people away in unmarked cars without probable cause; the people were detained and later released. And in Washington, D.C., peaceful protesters were violently cleared from the streets by federal officers using smoke bombs and pepper balls last month before a photo op by Trump in front of St. John’s church.

Barr defended the broad use of law enforcement power to deal with the situation, noting that protesters had earlier set fire to the church and “it was total consensus that you couldn’t allow that to happen so close to the White House.”

He also said the force was used because the protesters would not disperse from the area when law enforcement officials were trying to move back the security perimeter, a decision made the night before.

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The use of pepper spray was warranted, even if peaceful protesters were also harmed, he said.