Barr Berated: An In-Depth Analysis of Barr’s DOJ Oversight Testimony
By Samuel Frye
Tuesday, July 31, 2020, Attorney General William Barr testified before the House Judiciary Committee. It lasted just under five hours; not a single member of the Judiciary Committee took their five allotted minutes with Barr lightly. The House Judiciary Committee is made up of 41 members from the House of Representatives, and as of the current committee’s political leanings, it is made up of 22 Democratic members and 16 Republican members. It is led by Representative Nadler, a Democrat from New York as Chair with Mary Gay Scanlon, a Democrat from Pennsylvania as, Vice Chair and Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, as Ranking Member.
Attorney General Barr has a long list of accolades, accomplishments, and Presidents that he’s served under. Most notably, he served as Attorney General under President George H. W. Bush and Donald Trump. He is the “Top Cop” in the United States and leader of the Department of Justice. As the leader of the DOJ, his main responsibilities include representing the United States in legal matters, supervising and directing the DOJ, and advising the President and his cabinet on legal matters, according to the DOJ.
Barr testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Justice Department Oversight. The testimony starts with a montage of the violent protests that are happening across the United States for a multitude of reasons. Nadler introduces himself and provides Barr with time to give a statement. Barr’s statement consists of paying respects to John Lewis, clarifying that he had no relationship with Trump prior to being his AG, condemning all violence, and statements on protests and assaults on courthouses. The testimony in its entirety can be watched here.
Here are the key take-aways from the Barr testimony. This list will highlight and summarize points made by members of the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Jerrald Nadler, D-NY: Commented and questioned Barr on Operation Legend and Relentless Pursuit, how it isn’t working, and so why do it? Barr’s response was that the COVID-19 pandemic has interfered with Operation Relentless and how the DOJ plans to restart these Operations once the Pandemic is over. Nadler also questioned Barr on if Barr had discussed President Trump’s reelection campaign and how Americans are “suspicious” of Barr and Trump’s motives, and that the federal government’s response to protesting is an effort to aid Trump’s reelection campaign. We recommend watching how this plays out.
Operation Legend is “a sustained, systematic and coordinated law enforcement initiative across all federal law enforcement agencies working in conjunction with state and local law enforcement officials to fight the sudden surge of violent crime,” as per the DOJ website. And Operation Relentless is the same thing. The difference appears to be that Operation Legend was set to start in Kansas City and Operation Relentless Pursuit was aimed at the seven “most violent cities” in America. According to Nadler, Operation Legend claims to have made 200 arrests through the operation, but the state of Missouri only reports one arrest claimed by Operation Legend.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-CA: Via zoom, Lofgren touched on America versus other countries pandemic responses, the President’s “catastrophic failure” of that response, and how she believes that the federal government’s response to protestors is so that Americans are “afraid of other Americans” to divert from the President’s coronavirus response. They butt heads on their views of the protesters vs. police conflict in Portland and Executive Order 13933. Most importantly, Lofgren commented on and questioned surveillance techniques, such as “dirt boxes,” being used to detect calls and collect the content of the calls and internet history outside of courthouses, Lofgren wanted to know whose authority it was to do that, Barr responded, “…the FBI…” More on dirtboxes here.
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-OH: Representative Chabot’s discussion with AG Barr noted the weapons being used by rioters in Portland include rifles, explosives, knives, saws, sledges, tasers, slingshots, rocks, bricks, and lasers. Barr added pellet guns to that list. Chabot also wanted to know if the federal response to the Portland protests were “stormtroopers,” as some say, being sent in by the government, to which Barr replied with, “No, they’re obviously not stormtroopers… deputy marshals as the protective force for the court. But almost after a month of rioting in Portland…we sent in…about 20 special operations marshals…our ‘stormtrooper’ from the Department of Justice amounted to 29 marshals in the courthouse…until recently increased, I think, there was 95, I was told, 95 DHS federal protective service and other DHS officers…”
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-TX: Representative Jackson-Lee asked Barr if he understood the talk Black parents must have with their children about police violence. She then asked Barr if the Trump Justice Department would seek to end systemic racism, Barr did not agree that there is systemic racism in today’s police. She pressed Barr on other issues like qualified immunity to which Barr is opposed to ending. Qualified immunity is a protection against civil suits for government officials when they are accused of breaking the law in the course of their work, unless there is a breach of the plaintiff’s “clearly established” rights. More on qualified immunity here.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-TX: Louie Gohmert, who tested positive for COVID-19 a day after Barr testified, probed Barr on if protests would be shut down due to COVID-19, Barr said, “I’ve never considered that.”
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-GA: Representative Johnson started off by getting Barr to agree that Trump is a prolific tweeter, and mentioned his tweets about Roger Stone, a conservative lobbyist whose 40 month prison sentence was commuted by President Trump on July 10th, read more on Stone’s recent news here. The original sentencing guidelines for Roger Stones’ convictions (witness tampering, obstructing an official proceeding, and counts of false statements, according to The New York Times.) was 7 to 9 years, but Barr’s DOJ decided to reduce the sentence to 40 months. Representative Ted Deutch also touched on the matter concerning Roger Stone with AG Barr.
Rep. Martha Roby, R-AL: Asked Barr if he would work with her to combat child exploitation, to which he said “Absolutely.”
Rep. Karen Bass, D-CA: Bass discovered that Barr was not familiar with the case of Elijah McClain or the use of ketamine in Elijah McClain’s arrest. Barr agreed that the police involved should be held accountable for the use of ketamine. Barr also indicated that there is an Executive Order with the intention to set up a database of police officers past offenses.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY: After Jeffries’ time with Barr, we now know that Barr respects the expiration of office. Jeffries asked if Barr would leave office if Trump loses in November, Barr’s response: “If the results are clear, I would leave office.” There’s still debate on how this upcoming election will play out, if it will be delayed or not, but legally, the President cannot do this on his own.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-CA: Lieu confronted Barr on how the Portland use of unmarked officers putting protestors into unmarked vans to take them to an undisclosed location, is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Representative Lieu is correct. These protestors being abducted in Portland are not being read their Miranda Rights, they’re not being taken with probable cause, and they’re not persons with active warrants out for them. It is UnConstitution, it is illegal, and it is unethical by all accounts. I recommend watching this one, it speaks volumes (starts at 2:32:14).
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-AZ: Representative Lesko touched on autonomous zones in the United States. Autonomous zones are areas taped off by a city or a district where police do not govern it. There are multiple autonomous zones right now getting the spotlight in Richmond, Philadelphia, and New York City.
Rep. Ben Cline, R-VA: Barr’s response on if churches are subject to the same pandemic guidelines as everyone else, “We adopted a very narrow approach of calling to the attention usually by letter, not by lawsuit, of situations where they were treating religion worse than they were other kinds of organizations and gatherings and the constitution requires that it be treated the same. And we were calling those to the attention of the governors and most of the governors that we called attention to voluntarily changed their own orders. There were a few occasions where we pointed out anomalies in the differential regulation of business and again, mostly they were voluntarily changed by the governors. So, this was not a wholesale attack on stay at home orders it was just that these are very broad powers that have been seated, ya know, basically telling everyone to stay at home and only work if you’re an essential business and so forth and therefore someone has to keep and eye on that and make sure there’s no overreach and as time went by there were times where that you had these crazy rules in effect that were overly burdensome and raise constitutional problems.”
This is the point where Jim Jordan, who already had his five minutes with Barr, interjected and asked Barr if it was more important to go to church or go to a protest, Barr said, “It depends on the individual.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-WA: Representative Jayapal got heated with AG Barr on the use of excessive force in Lafayette Square. In this heated conversation they discussed protests about police’s persistent killings of Black people, Trump’s “call” to governors, and the “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” tweet.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
Rep. Lou Correa, D-CA: Correa and Barr disagreed on who can be counted in the U.S. Census, Barr specified that Congress is in charge of who gets to decide that, “Congress can determine meaning of inhabitant for this purpose.”
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-PA: Scanlon made points on how mail-in vote opposers have no evidence supporting that foreign countries can sway American votes. Barr said they could, with no evidence to back it.
Rep. Lucy McBath, D-GA: This was her part of exchange with AG Barr:
Rep. McBath: “Will you stop playing politics with American’s healthcare in the middle of a pandemic?” Will you reverse your course and make sure that millions of Americans like me, that depend on health care and treatment to stay alive, will you reserve your course to make sure we have the ability to be able to live in this country freely with quality healthcare?”
AG Barr: “People will have the healthcare protection and that will be accomplished either if i lose-”
Rep. McBath: “I take this as a no.”
Rep. Greg Stanton, D-AZ: “Mr. Barr, can you commit to the American people that you will not interfere with the decisions of state and local authorities to use vote by mail and absentee ballots in the 2020 elections? That’s a yes or no question.” Barr could not answer this directly. “If in this upcoming November election, if the president asks you to intervene and try to stop states from counting legal ballots after election day, will you do the right thing and refuse? Yes or no.” Barr also answered in an evasive way, “I will follow the law,” leaving it up to state and local laws.
Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-TX: Representative Escobar ended Barr’s testimony with a final question, asking Barr if he knew that the President’s tweets were official statements of the White House. Barr did not know this. The final comment was on where Barr’s loyalty lies, to the Constitution or to President Trump.