Barr, according to the statement, will take a defiant posture as he testifies before the panel for the first time since Democrats took control of it, alleging that they have attempted to “discredit” him since he vowed to investigate the 2016 FBI probe of possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, and the media has been unfair in covering unrest. He is expected to face critical questioning on his response to anti-police brutality protests across the nation, his controversial interventions in high-profile cases involving allies of Trump and many other matters.
According to a Democratic committee counsel, lawmakers will ask Barr about his role dispatching federal agents to respond to anti-police-brutality protests that have at times grown violent — first in D.C. and more recently, in Portland, Ore. Several Democratic leaders — including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) — have asked the Justice Department and Homeland Security inspectors general to probe the federal government’s actions in those cities and raised questions about whether they were legal.
“Citizens are concerned that the Administration has deployed a secret police force, not to investigate crimes but to intimidate individuals it views as political adversaries, and that the use of these tactics will proliferate throughout the country,” Nadler and others wrote this month.
Barr will emphasize the violence that has accompanied some demonstrations, especially in Portland, where protests have raged for dozens of nights outside the federal courthouse, according to his opening statement.
“What unfolds nightly around the courthouse cannot reasonably be called a protest; it is, by any objective measure, an assault on the Government of the United States,” Barr will say, according to the opening statement.
Democrats are also likely to ask about a broader range of topics, including what they see as the politicization of the Justice Department, Barr’s misleading statements defending Trump’s assertion that voting by mail would “open the floodgates to fraud,” and what they call his “failure” to enforce voting rights laws.
In his opening statement, Barr will insist Trump has done no wrong. “From my experience, the President has played a role properly and traditionally played by Presidents,” Barr will say, according to the statement.
Republicans, meanwhile, are likely to seek the latest information about U.S. Attorney John Durham’s work exploring the origins of the FBI’s 2016 investigation into possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Barr recently told Fox News he expected to see developments in Durham’s investigation “hopefully before the end of the summer.” Many Democrats have come to view Durham’s probe as a political exercise meant to discredit the FBI investigation that long dogged Trump’s presidency, though Republicans see it as an effort to uncover FBI corruption in the previous administration.
About two months ago in D.C., Barr orchestrated a huge show of force in response to protests after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, deploying agents with the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals and the Bureau of Prisons to help quell unrest.
The move came after demonstrators set a fire at St. John’s Church, not far from the White House. But critics said Barr’s maneuvers went too far — particularly when he ordered the removal of a group of demonstrators from Lafayette Square in front of the White House, just before Trump walked across the area to pose for a photo. Police dispersed the largely peaceful crowd using mounted officers and gas.
More recently, U.S. marshals — whose agency is part of the Justice Department — participated in the federal law enforcement response in Portland. Much of the controversy there has been driven by images of Department of Homeland Security personnel in military garb clubbing some protesters and stuffing others into unmarked vehicles, alarming civil liberties advocates.
But the massive federal deployment was reminiscent of what happened in D.C., and with some local mayors raising concern about the administration sending law enforcement to its streets, Barr and Trump revealed they were expanding a Justice Department anti-violence initiative to do just that.
Barr and other officials have stressed that the initiative, called Operation Legend, is separate from the federal government’s response to violence at protests. The Justice Department, Barr has said, is sending hundreds of agents with the FBI, DEA, the U.S. Marshals Service and other agencies to supplement existing violent-crime task forces. But local leaders have expressed wariness that Barr and Trump have other intentions, and that their moves are meant mainly to help Trump’s political prospects by casting him as a law-and-order president.
In his opening statement, Barr will lean into that image. He will criticize efforts to defund police, and will seek to stress that many more black people are killed by homicides than die at police hands. He will note controversially, “The threat to black lives posed by crime on the streets is massively greater than any threat posed by police misconduct.”
“When the police are attacked, when they are defunded, when they are driven out of urban communities, it is black lives that will suffer most from their absence,” Barr will say, according to his opening statement. “It is for that reason that, in select cities where there has been an upsurge in violent crime, we are stepping up and bolstering the activities of our joint anti-crime task forces, which have been successful in the past.”
The Justice Department and Homeland Security inspectors general have said they will examine the federal response in Portland and D.C., which Barr could use as a reason to decline answering more specific questions about the matter.
Barr is also sure to face scrutiny about his personal interventions in the criminal cases against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and longtime Trump associate Roger Stone.
Stone was convicted in December of lying to Congress as it investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election. Earlier this year, as Stone was awaiting sentencing, Barr overruled the recommendation for a penalty that career prosecutors gave to a judge in favor of a more lenient one. One of the prosecutors on that case, Aaron Zelinsky, testified to the House Judiciary Committee last month that the move was “based on political considerations.” Stone was ultimately sentenced to 40 months in prison, but Trump commuted the term earlier this month — a move Barr reportedly opposed.
A counsel for Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said current and former Justice Department officials have come forward since with their own whistleblower accounts, but did not name whom.
Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying about his dealings with a Russian diplomat. But as he was awaiting sentencing, he switched legal teams and tried to attack his own case, and soon gained an ally in Barr’s Justice Department. Barr ordered the U.S. attorney in St. Louis, Jeff Jensen, to review the matter, and at Jensen’s recommendation, then had the department try to get the case dismissed.
The move again raised questions about politicization. A D.C. federal judge initially balked at granting the department’s request, though he was ordered to do so by an appeals court — which sided with Barr. The judge is now himself challenging that decision.
Barr will tell lawmakers that Trump “told me from the start that he expects me to exercise my independent judgment to make whatever call I think is right,” adding, “That is precisely what I have done,” according to his opening statement.
“Like his predecessors, President Trump and his National Security Council have appropriately weighed in on law-enforcement decisions that directly implicate national security or foreign policy, because those decisions necessarily involve considerations that transcend typical prosecutorial factors,” Barr will say, according to the statement. “Moreover, when some noteworthy event occurs that potentially has legal ramifications — such as leaks of classified information, potential civil rights abuses by police, or illegal price fixing or gouging — the President has occasionally, and appropriately, confirmed that the Department is aware of the matter.”
Barr also is likely to face questions about his ousting of Geoffrey Berman as the U.S. attorney in Manhattan — an effort that briefly resulted in a standoff between Berman and Barr — and what, if any, role he played in authorities’ move to take former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen back into custody after he had been released from federal prison as part of the government’s effort to stem the spread of coronavirus. A federal judge last week ordered Cohen to again be released, saying the Justice Department’s returning him to prison was retaliation for writing a book about Trump.