Attorney General William Barr testified before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, July, 28, 2020. It was the first time that he has appeared before the Committee during his tenure as a government official. You can view the hearing in its entirety here.
Chairman Jerry Nadler, who was initially delayed this morning due to a car accident, centered his opening statement on the history of the Department of Justice. He noted that the department was created to protect the civil rights of American citizens and to do away with an office of spoils.
Nadler further alleged that “under your leadership the department has endangered Americans and violated their constitutional rights” by flooding federal agents into cities whose state and local officials did not want them, in order to unconstitutionally suppress dissent, express hostility against the Black Lives Matter movement, and aid in the election efforts of President Trump. He further called the department a shadow of its former self.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio): “Spying…” was the opening word and overall focus of his opening statement. Rep. Jordan delved into a wild narrative in which he feebly tried to make a coherent narrative out of his ramblings. Somehow within his conspiratorial narrative, Rep. Jim Jordan said that “in November 2016, Americans got in the way” of the “Obama-Biden spying efforts,” when Trump won the election. Except, as we know Trump did not win the popular vote, he lost. Only a majority of Americans within the Electoral College supposedly “got in the way” to use his words.
Rep. Jordan then showed a video of clipped together media sources saying “peaceful protests” over and over again, only for it to move into a public statement given by the widow, Ann Dorn, of retired St. Louis police captain, David Dorn, who was slain during a night of violence while protecting his friend’s business. The video then turned to looted stores, protesters trying to remove barricades, protesters throwing fireworks, etc.
In short, it was the most edited source material you could find to negatively characterize the widespread unrest around the country. It falsely characterized the protests around the nation as widespread riots and violence. Certainly, there are pockets of protests that have turned ugly, unruly, and violent. However, painting a simplistic picture with a broad brush isn’t the touch we need to solve our collective problems.
Oddly enough, the bizarre video shown by Rep. Jim Jordan violated the rules of the committee, as it was not provided 48 hours ahead of the meeting. One would think this is a common courtesy rule to allow all members to review any evidence to be admitted to the hearing.
Attorney General William Barr then summarized or read out his written statement. In it he noted that the attorney general has the duty to dole out “the fair and impartial administration of justice.”
In his opening statement AG Barr did bring up at least one important point of concern that needs to be realized, “Violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests…”
This is not to say that all protesters have been corrupted by false idols or leaders with alternative agendas, and it is not to say that all violence or property destruction has been done by saboteurs or agent provocateurs. It is important to realize that history is complex, especially when we are watching it unfold in real time. However, it is also important to note that for President Trump & AG Barr, the typical narrative has been to associate peaceful protesters with the violent rioters and looters as often as possible, implicitly or explicitly. President Trump does so explicitly, but AG Barr is far too smart to follow suit, therefore his rhetoric is that of the implicit association.
Trump has recently railed against what he calls “far-left fascism” and denounced Antifa as a terrorist group. However, a recent study has shown that far-right extremism has led to more murders in the past 25 years than Antifa actions.
AG Barr went on to say that, “What unfolds nightly around the courthouse cannot reasonably be called protest. It is by any objective measure an assault on the government of the United States.”
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana, 4th District): Asked AG Barr why it is “untrue” that the DOJ has become more “politicized” under his oversight. Barr responded that he has been trying to ensure that the “rule of law” is exercised evenly across each case.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California, 19th District): Noted that the President’s playbook has been to divert attention away from his catastrophic failure around COVID-19. She noted that his narrative is one of division and otherness. His rhetoric has consistently been volatile, hostile, divisive, and dismissive. She emphasized that the majority of the people on the streets of Portland are non-violent protesters exercising their rights to protest, free speech, and free press. Rep. Lofgren referenced the “wall of moms” that we all have undoubtedly seen by now in Portland. AG Barr mentioned that he believes her characterization of Portland is inaccurate.
Rep. Lofgren also brought up major concerns regarding surveillance tools being used and asked under what authority the DOJ is operating for this process. AG Barr speculated that it would likely be the cyber arm of the FBI who would be conducting such operations.
AG Barr asked, “Since when is it okay to burn down a federal court?” Which is a fair question in some respects. On one hand I do think that our federal buildings and facilities need to be protected and maintained. If we want to remove statues, changed street names, paint murals, and all of these other performative acts, then fine, do that, but there is a process for that. However, on the other hand, this type of rhetoric obscures the reasons for all of these protests in the first place: the murderers of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor continue to live in anonymity and freedom. By focusing on the collateral damage of civil unrest (as that is what property damage is when peaceful protests are incited into riots), it elevates the importance and value of property over the importance and value of black lives, which is the exact reason that so many protest.
AG Barr claimed yesterday that systemic racism in the United States does not exist. However, I think it is clear to any rational person that systemic racism certainly exists and that it has become more implicit than explicit due to shifting social and political views.
Attorney General Barr further claimed that the U.S. Marshals have a duty to protect federal property and that is what they are doing in Portland. “We are at the courthouse, defending the courthouse. We’re not out looking for trouble.” Despite this assertion from Attorney General Barr, there has been much concern that these federal agents in Portland are not all U.S. Marshals. There were and are apparently agents from numerous federal agencies on the ground in Portland, including BORTAC, the U.S. Border Patrol’s equivalent to a ‘SWAT’ division. This group is usually tasked with operations such as raiding drug smuggler hideouts and dealing with crimes of that nature. They are not properly trained to handle civilian protests or riots. Federal agents were also deployed from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
A memo (page 1 & page 2) from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revealed that, “The highly skilled tactical teams assigned to support the civil unrest and riots do not have specific training in riot control or mass demonstrations.”
When is it okay to use the office of the President for product placement? When is it okay for federal agents to break the hand of a Navy veteran who is exercising his right to peacefully assemble and protest? When is it okay to use tear-gas on your own citizens? When is it okay to assume citizens are guilty merely by association of time, place, or company and then arrest them without the legal jurisdiction to do so?
Despite AG Barr saying that this is a majorly complex issue in his opening statement, he often refers to protesters and rioters interchangeably as the ominous, reductionist, and dangerous, “they.” The same is true of the rhetoric of the Republican representatives. When they are not deflecting from the issues at hand to wild narratives, they are actively, and falsely, conflating rioters or looters with non-violent protesters. These types of generalizations seek to simplify complex issues and homogenize diverse groups of protesters into a distinct “other.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, 18th District: Opened with a quote from John Lewis in 1963 when he said that, “We are tired about being beat by police, we’re tired of being put in jail. We want our freedom now.” Rep. Jackson Lee noted that AG Barr, “indicated that we have made great progress since that time and that the killing of George Floyd was shocking, but I disagree…” She called the death of George Floyd what it was, cold-blooded murder on the streets of America at the hands of the police. The fact that George Floyd’s story is not shocking to a woman of color but is to a white man should tell you all you need to know about how we live in different realities based around our identities and how they intersect.
She further asserted, rightly so, that AG Barr “seems to have a difficult time understanding systemic racism and institutional racism that has plagued so many.” Barr continually refuses to recognize or understand the prevalence of systemic racism within law enforcement in the United States, despite various data pointing to that conclusion. When asked if the Department of Justice under Trump’s administration was committed to seeking to end systemic racism and racism in law enforcement, AG Barr struggled to provide a clear answer until he settled on, “I don’t agree that there is systemic racism in police departments or generally in this country.”
Upon further questioning AG Barr noted that, “I’m opposed to eliminating qualified immunity.” (for police officers).
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN): Echoed many of the points of his colleagues and people across the country who continually assert that the majority of protests have been peaceful and the majority of protesters have been peaceful. The highlight of his questions for AG Barr came when he turned his attention to the Mueller Report. Rep. Cohen noted that U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, appointed by President George W. Bush, declared in a ruling that Barr’s summary was “distorted” and “misleading.”
Keep in mind AG Barr has continued to block the release of the unredacted Mueller report, which Judge Reggie Walton has read in full and compiled a spreadsheet of questions that he believes the Department of Justice needs to answer regarding it. Indeed, Judge Walton has asserted that, AG Barr’s actions in handling the Mueller report have created “grave concerns about the objectivity of the process that preceded the public release of the redacted version.”
Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO): This mess of a man makes it hard to be objective. He called Antifa, whose main goal as anti-fascists is to oppose fascism, fascist in his statement, which honestly invalidates the rest of his opinion. It is exceedingly difficult to take seriously these demagogues who somehow run our country when they cannot even do their homework to understand the words they use, the logic they invoke, or the history they claim to base their decisions on. It is easier to view and judge his words for yourself: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4895927/user-clip-rep-ken-bucks-deranged-rambling-called-american-left-totalitarian-movement
Rep. Buck alleged that the so-called “American left” is a totalitarian movement that is facilitating soaring crime rates by disarming American citizens to further their political ends. Does that logic not seem somewhat muddled? Perhaps, ironic or hypocritical even?
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL): Rep. Deutch asked some piercing questions of Attorney General Barr yesterday regarding his involvements with the Roger Stone case.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA): Rep. Swalwell also grilled AG Barr regarding the Roger Stone Case. He noted that during William Barr’s confirmation hearing, he was asked that if a sitting president pardoned someone who could potentially incriminate him, would that be a crime, to which he answered that yes, it certainly would be.
Rep. Swalwell then noted that Roger Stone lied at least seven times under oath and even bragged about it to save face for President Trump. As other members have previously mentioned, after the sentencing recommendation for Stone initially came out, President Trump tweeted that he strongly disagreed with the decision.
AG Barr was then asked if there was an investigation into President Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s sentence, to which he replied unequivocally, “No.”
Despite the follow-up question of “why not?” from Rep. Swalwell, AG Barr had nothing to offer beyond simply dismissing all of the evidence mentioned by the committee member.
- Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA): Brought up and compared the disproportionate responses between the Elijah Mclain and Dylan Roof cases by the same police in the same state.
- “I think we have to assume that they are.” AG Barr when asked if he thinks Russia is interfering in the 2020 election.
- When asked, “Can a sitting US president move an election date?” AG Barr said “I’ve never looked into it…”
- Rep. Cedric Richmond asked the question, “Does he (the president) have a remedy to contest an election?” To which AG Barr responded, “Not that I’m aware of.”
- Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA): Asked of AG Barr when the right to protest stops? Barr answered “when those activities become violent.”
- Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA): Asked if the DOJ is investigating the potential excessive use of force at Lafayette Park on June 1st.
- Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL): Decided to use his time to dismiss any notions of peaceful protesters and pick up on the conspiratorial narrative of Rep. Jim Jordan’s opening statement.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA): “There is no such thing as probable cause by mere association, correct?”
AG Barr: “Not strictly…but I will say you need particularized probable cause.”
Rep. Lieu, a former prosecutor, expertly laid out how the actions of federal agents to illegally arrest protesters in Portland based solely on the notion of “guilt by association” is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI): Asked AG Barr piercing questions such as, “Is it ever appropriate for a president to accept or solicit foreign aid of any kind in an election?” & “Do you think it is ever appropriate to use tear gas on peaceful protesters? Yes or no?”
AG Barr stumbled around an unclear answer about how hard it can be to separate peaceful protesters from violent actors. He eventually landed on “I don’t think that should happen to them.” However, it seemed cleared that he wanted to be very careful with his words here, as he was throughout the entire hearing.
“It’s important to remember what these protests are about, Black Lives Matter!” -Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI)
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA): Noted that American intelligence agencies have actively warned that foreign forces are attempting to sow distrust in our elections and public institutions. President Trump and AG Barr’s rhetoric regarding election tampering has centered on voter fraud and even the potential of fabricated electoral ballots created by foreign nations. Does that rhetoric not inherently cause American voters to doubt some part of their voting process? Especially when President Trump’s own reasoning for opposing mail-in ballots was that it might be the end of the Republican party.
This is how the state legitimizes violence only when it is wielded by the state. What if the actions of those law enforcement officers are illegal? What if those actions are unconstitutional?
This is the problem with blindly following a hollow concept such as the “rule of law” or “law & order.”