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Attorney General Barr Testifies Before House Lawmakers. Aired 12:30-1p ET
Aired July 28, 2020 - 12:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): Do you stand by that statement?
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes.
JOHNSON: Now I'm sure that we can agree on some things. We disagree on a whole lot, but I'm sure we can agree on the fact that President Trump is just a prolific tweeter. Isn't that correct?
BARR: He seems to be.
JOHNSON: And he tweeted many times about the Roger Stone sentencing didn't he?
BARR: I don't know how many times he tweeted about it.
JOHNSON: Well, many times. You -- and you are aware of them because you said it would -- it's hurt you from doing your job. And isn't it true that when prosecutors in the Roger Stone case filed a memo with the court recommending a sentence of seven to nine years in prison, a few hours later, President Trump tweeted that the sentence recommendation was, quote, a disgrace. You're aware of that?
JOHNSON: And General Barr, several hours after that, you filed a pleading with the court stating that the sentence recommendation would be changed and that you would be asking for a lighter sentence for Roger Stone. Is that correct?
BARR: No. What is correct is that -- what is corrected on February 10th, Monday, I gave instructions as to what the --
JOHNSON: You're claiming my time.
BARR: Yes. I'm answering your question.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Well, you've got to let him answer.
JOHNSON: Reclaiming my time. You filed a sentencing recommendation hours after President Trump tweeted his dissatisfaction with the Stone recommendation. And you change that recommendation.
BARR: No. The night before, that is Monday night.
JOHNSON: Well, I know your story. But I'm asking --
BARR: Well, I'm telling my story. That's what I'm here to do. Well, I do. That's why I'm here.
JOHNSON: -- my question.
BARR: Well, I'm here to tell my story. And on the night before -- the night before on February 10th --
JOHNSON: No sir --
BARR: On February 10th --
JOHNSON: I'm reclaiming my time, Sir, reclaiming my time. And I know you don't want to answer. But the facts are clear. Sentencing recommendation made in the morning tweet. In the afternoon you change the sentencing recommendation that --
BARR: No. Tweet was not in the afternoon, the tweet was made it I think 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning.
JOHNSON: Well, the tweet was made before and after tweeted about that relentlessly. And you've agreed to that. Now, when you filed your sentencing recommendation asking for a lower sentence --
BARR: I didn't ask for a lower sentence.
JOHNSON: Well, you said that you were going to recommend a lower sentence. And you --
JOHNSON: -- wasn't the sentence that was recommended by the line prosecutors, according to the sentencing guideline calculations?
BARR: It was within -- it was within the guidelines, but it was not within Justice Department policy in my view.
JOHNSON: But now, General Barr, you're expecting the American people to believe that you did not do what Trump wanted you to do when you changed that sentencing recommendation and lowered it for Roger Stone. You think the American people don't understand that you were carrying out Trump's?
BARR: I was not -- I had not discussed my sentencing recommendation with anyone at the White House or anyone outside the Department --
JOHNSON: -- President wanted you to do. And that's what you did.
JOHNSON: Attorney General Barr --
BARR: Let me ask you, do you think it's fair -- do you think it is fair for a 67-year-old man to be sent to prison for seven to nine years?
JOHNSON: It was in accordance with the sentencing.
BARR: No. It was not.
JOHNSON: You just said that it was and you're lying prosecutors will testify that it was also. Now, I'm going to move on from that. The Department --
BARR: The Department --
JOHNSON: Your time as Attorney General --
BARR: It is not the Department --
JOHNSON: Herbert Walker Bush, you never changed the sentencing recommendation for a friend of Herbert Walker Bush did you?
BARR: No, as I recall.
JOHNSON: All right. That's all I'm asking. No. And over the course of your time, as Trump --
BARR: Nothing was never elevated to me.
JOHNSON: Over the course of your tenure with Trump. You've changed two sentencing recommendations. Not one, but two. Correct?
BARR: Which were that?
JOHNSON: Yes. Michael Flynn.
BARR: I didn't change it.
JOHNSON: Well. You said, well, you indicated that -- yes, you changed it because the original Flynn sentencing recommendation was for Flynn to serve zero to six months. But under your authority, the Justice Department supplemented that recommendation with a pleading that stated the Department of Justice's agreement with Flynn's lawyers that probation would be a reasonable sentence, and that the DOJ would not be sinking prison time for Michael Flynn. Is that correct?
BARR: I don't think that's what it says.
JOHNSON: But that's what it says, Sir. You go back and read it.
BARR: I think both -- I think both pleading said --
JOHNSON: Reclaiming my time. Prior to you --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentlemen's time has expired.
JORDAN: Madam Chair, you can give a speech or you can ask questions. If you do the latter, you need to let the witness answer the questions. And that's the Chair's obligation, the Chair's responsibility to allow that to happen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I believe Mr. Buck is recognized for five minutes.
REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): Attorney General Barr, thank you for appearing before the Committee today. General Barr, there is a disturbing pattern we've seen throughout history with totalitarian systems of government. The leaders first seek to disarm the population. Then they encourage goon squads to suppress opposing voices. And finally, once they have disarmed and silence the opposition, these authoritarian leaders institute policies that root out and crush freedom in every form.
Unfortunately, the American left has been infected with the same totalitarian desire to remove firearms and silence opposing views as part of a campaign to achieve its political ends. We've seen this scenario play out in every major Democrat-run city in America. Progressive leaders push to disarm law abiding Americans to further their influence while watching his crime rates soar.
We even saw a failed presidential incentive candidate, Beto O'Rourke, proudly tell Americans, hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15 and your AR or your AK-47.
Now, the American left is actively cheering as its fascist militia Antifa rages in the streets. Antifa is a domestic terrorist organization that hijacks peaceful rallies, organizes armed riots, attacks peaceful protesters, burns buildings, loot stores, and spreads hate.
Reports of Antifa linked attacks began circulating in 2017. These thugs often armed with sticks and pepper spray and other instruments showed up to silence college Republican groups at Berkeley. The left was silent. Then in June 2019, Antifa jumped into the national conversation after journalists, Andy Ngo, was brutally attacked in Portland. No arrests were made. The left again was silent.
Almost exactly one year ago today, "Wall Street Journal" ran an op-ed stating Portland has to do something to deter political violence or the city will get more of it. Of course, the city's feckless leadership has only further encouraged Antifa's violent antics.
As a result we've seen 61 straight nights of violence in Portland. Antifa's fascist totalitarian activities are now losing into other Democrat-run cities. Last Sunday, Antifa launched a violent assault on a peaceful pro police demonstration in Denver, Colorado.
Conservative leaders in Colorado including Randy Corporon, a Denver area lawyer and radio talk show host organized a family friendly event in honor of law enforcement Appreciation Day. The atmosphere was peaceful, and a counter protesters were given plenty of space to advocate their message.
But as the afternoon more on, a swarm of violent Antifa thugs infiltrated peaceful Black Lives Matter counter protesters and began assaulting pro police Americans. These are 20 and 30-year-old thugs assaulting 50, 60, 70 and even 80-year-old Americans who only wanted to show their support for law enforcement.
What's worse, Denver's poweredly liberal leadership ordered police to retreat once they saw members of Antifa entering the fray. A Denver police detective Nick Rogers apologized for this terrible decision. Detective Roger summed it up best in a recent radio interview, quote, I'm sorry on behalf of the rank and file, that's not us. That's not who we are. It just kills me that we let good people down.
He continued, I found out that a retreat order was given by the incident commander and we had one lieutenant step up and say, we aren't leaving. This Lieutenant said these people are going to get killed if we don't stay. So he kept his people there. That's the reason this thing didn't get worse, end of quote.
These are sad times in America. Free speech and the right to keep and bear arms are both being threatened by violent anarchists and the best our Chairman can do is call Antifa, a myth.
General Barr, this has to stop. We can't let Antifa continue terrorizing our country. Can you please tell us about the appropriate use of civil and criminal RICO statutes to address violent criminal groups like Antifa?
BARR: In the wake of the beginning of these riots, I asked our Joint Terrorism Task Forces, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces around the country to be our principal means of developing evidence and prosecuting violent extremist, terrorists who are involved in these activities. And one of the tools obviously we would use is RICO which can be used against an organization. But that doesn't mean that we currently have a RICO case pending.
BUCK: OK. I thank the gentleman. And do you have anything you want to say in response to the speeches that have been given by the other side and then you've been cut off.
BARR: Yes. Well, let's -- in Lafayette -- on Lafayette --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman's time has expired.
BARR: Can I ask for a brief recess?
JORDAN: Yes. Madam Chair, the witness like a break.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Barr, 10 minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. The Committee will stand in recess for five minutes.
JOHN KING, CNN HOST: We're watching a remarkably contentious House Judiciary Committee hearing, the Attorney General William Barr asking for a quick five minute recess there. Democrats making the case throughout this hearing that they believe that the Attorney General is simply a lackey for the President of the United States to do his bidding.
The Attorney General fighting back quite forcefully saying the President has told him especially on criminal matters to make independent judgments, a big point of contention. The deployment of federal authorities, federal agents in cities like Portland, where the Attorney General says they are simply protecting federal properties, the Democrats alleging they are provoking confrontation to get footage for Trump campaign ads.
Let's discuss what we've heard so far as the Committee takes this five minute recess. Evan Perez, our senior justice correspondent is with us, our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, as well. Evan, let me just start with you. We knew from the beginning, the Attorney General was going to stand his ground, what jumps out at you on what we've heard so far?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I think the amount of time that the Democrats have spent on trying to fight with the Attorney General about the deployment of federal law enforcement officers to cities, it's surprising to me that they're confusing what the Attorney General just announced recently, which is to send additional DEA agents, ATF, FBI agents to cities in coordination with prosecutors with what is happening in Portland which is a completely different matter where there's fighting there between the city and the marshals and the Homeland Security Department.
Those are two separate scenarios and they seem to be getting confused with that. I will say though, it is very clear that they've managed to get under the Attorney General's skin by accusing him of being essentially a bagman, a lackey for the President. This is exactly the kind of thing that annoys him.
But one of the things I'm really surprised they haven't really gotten more into is, you know, in his opening statement, he goes into how many black people have been killed by police. He said there were eight, 11 white people have been killed by police so far this year, according to the Attorney General.
What he does not provide is any of the context of the larger numbers. And he also sort of gets into this idea that because people are asking for reform of police is leading to an increase in crime and I think that's another thing that the Attorney General could be challenged on. And so far nobody is really doing.
KING: All right. That's an excellent point. And we'll see tend -- if you have a recess like this, both sides tend to regroup, go in and talk to the staff to see what they think is working, what isn't working, because this is it's an important oversight hearing, but it's also in the context of a political campaign.
Dana Bash to that point, we have to remember, this is a House Committee. These are House members who represent districts of about 500,000 people carefully drawn by the political parties, so that most of the people we're hearing from today have no risk in this election. There's a very contentious hard fought presidential election, control of the Senate is at stake. Most of these House members are safe back home. So liberals can espouse very liberal views, Conservatives can espouse very conservative views. What was striking to me is the Democrats lost a bit of control. This is their hearing, they're in the majority. But right off the top, the Ranking Republican Member Jim Jordan had essentially a Trump campaign ad or Republican campaign ad full of footage of protesters turning into more than protesters and attacking police. And the Democrats had no choice because he got to play it, to let it go.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It was really remarkable. It was very carefully produced and carefully crafted by Jim Jordan and the Republicans on this Committee in order to use this as a platform to push the President's campaign strategy and campaign message on law and order. And that's how it started in a very vivid way.
And if you kind of go down the line, as we've heard from other Republicans, they too are using their question. And I, you know, use the term question very loosely here and very liberally be in order to get the Attorney General to say things that can be used in other campaign ads, real campaign ads that can be used to help further the President in his campaign on this notion of law and order.
So they're taking advantage of this as much as maybe even more so than the Democrats are trying to.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Committee is session. The chair recognizes Mr. Deutch for five minutes.
KING: All right, Dana Bash, back into hearing, the Attorney General resuming after a very quick break. Let's listen.
REP. TED DEUTCH (D-FL): You just told us that nothing was ever elevated to me. You had said in an interview recently that there's a process in place an escalation system, is the A.G.'s responsibility to resolve it. How is this elevated to you, the case of Roger Stone?
BARR: On Monday, February 10th, the U.S. Attorney was with me and he raised the issue with me.
DEUTCH: So it was elevated by Timothy Shea?
DEUTCH: And had it been elevated during the two months between the time the conviction came in under the former U.S. attorney and the time that Timothy Shea started.
BARR: I think Shea may have had conversations with people.
DEUTCH: And then did you ever have conversations with the former U.S. attorney about this case about the sentencing?
BARR: I don't recall any discussion about Stone.
DEUTCH: Right. So Timothy Shea, you've said in the interview that he was new, he had just started. He was new, but he worked for you for a long time, didn't he?
DEUTCH: Most this job for you?
BARR: Well, when I was Attorney General, 30 years ago, he worked --
DEUTCH: No, no, now, just now.
BARR: He was on my staff.
DEUTCH: He advised you on criminal justice policy and law enforcement, right?
DEUTCH: And you act -- you named him acting U.S. attorney, have you discussed the Stone case with him before you named him acting U.S. attorney?
DEUTCH: Did you discuss sentencing with him? Not before the first time was when he came in, it wasn't Monday, actually, to -- just to refresh your recollection in a prior interview. You said he came in the week before he came in to see some senior staff.
BARR: No. That's what I said, he may have had discussions with people in deputy's. So I was not involved in those discussions. Basically, I didn't -- as far as I can quite, no substantive involvement in Stone until that Monday when he came in, in the morning.
DEUTCH: Well, the -- I'm sorry, Mr. Attorney General, the week before when he came in to see the senior staff that he had worked with the week before when he was working on --
BARR: No. I said, I think he had raised it with people in the Deputy's Office, that senior staff too.
DEUTCH: Right, I understand.
BARR: But I was not involved.
DEUTCH: He started on -- he started on July 31st. The first week he was there, he came to raise this issue.
BARR: I think he started February 1st.
DEUTCH: Right. The first week he was there, he came into your office to raise the issue of sentencing. In the interview with "ABC", you said --
BARR: I don't think he came --
DEUTCH: That's what you told "ABC News". You said that he's talked to senior staff, not you, perhaps but he talked to senior staff.
BARR: I don't know about, you know, I think I speak English. I said that before he came in to see me, I believe he had some conversations --
DEUTCH: Conversations with senior staff, right. That's right before he came to see you.
DEUTCH: We're saying the same thing.
BARR: But the first, it was raised with me.
DEUTCH: It was on Monday.
BARR: It was on Monday.
DEUTCH: Did you talk to the senior staff after they spoke with him?
BARR: I think at a 9 o'clock meeting, they said that he was trying to work something out on sentencing, and he was actually optimistic that something could be worked out. So I didn't think of it as an issue until that Monday when he told me that --
DEUTCH: Right. So he --
BARR: -- prosecutors --
DEUTCH: So then he filed -- so then they filed -- he filed the sentencing memo. And the sentencing memo called for seven to nine years. It's the policy of the U.S. Attorney's Office to suggest a specific guideline range which they did. And then you overrule the line prosecutors, he asked for a lower sentence. And you gave some reasons. You talked about health, health is to be considered only for an extraordinary physical impairment. Did that apply to Roger Stone, Mr. Attorney General, that's what the guideline said, that's --
BARR: Well, actually I can't, you know, I can't reveal all the info.
DEUTCH: I'm not asking what his health was. Did that apply?
DEUTCH: OK. And did --
BARR: I'm sorry, what apply?
DEUTCH: His health. Was that the reason?
BARR: Health is a reason to --
DEUTCH: I know. Is that the reason for Roger Stone, are asking for a lower sense? Let me go on, it says -- let me go on, let me go on. Hold on one second. Age can be consideration. It says only if it creates conditions that are of an unusual degree and distinguish the case from typical cases. He was 67 --
BARR: The judge agreed with me, Congressman.
DEUTCH: No. That's not what I'm asking. I'm not asking you that.
BARR: The judge agreed with me.
DEUTCH: I'm not asking whether --
BARR: I know you're not asking.
DEUTCH: I'm not asking you that. And the issue here is, the issue here is whether Roger Stone was treated differently because he was friends with the President. When you asked that -- when you asked to reduce the sentence, you said enhancements were technically applicable. Mr. Attorney General, can you think of any other cases where the defendant threatened to kill a witness, threatened to threatened a judge, lie to a judge where the Department of Justice claim that those were mere technicalities? Can you think of even one?
BARR: The judge agreed with our --
DEUTCH: Can you think of even one -- I'm not asking about the judge, I'm asking about what you did to reduce the sentence of Roger Stone.
DEUTCH: Can you think, Mr. Attorney General, he threatened the life of a witness --
BARR: And the witness --
DEUTCH: And you view that as a technicality, Mr. Attorney General. Has -- is there another --
BARR: Can I have just a few seconds to answer the question.
DEUTCH: Sure. I'm asking if there's another time --
BARR: In this case, the judge agreed with our --
DEUTCH: You aren't answering my question, Mr. Attorney General. And it's unfortunate. And the appearance is that as you said earlier, this is exactly what you want. The essence of rule of law is that we have one rule for everybody. And we don't in this case, because he's a friend of the President's. I yield back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman yields back. Ms. Roby.
REP. MARTHA ROBY (R-AL): Mr. Attorney General, thank you so much for being here with us today. I'm a member of this Committee as well as the Appropriations Committee. And I've been able to see firsthand the funding and the operation of the department.
Additionally, before I was elected to Congress, I served on the city council in my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. And I've witnessed the importance and the value of various Justice Department grant programs in the resources to state and local governments.
For example, the Alabama Fusion Center, which is designed to combine information between federal, state, and local government, private sector entities, and the intelligence community, has been a recipient of these federal grants.
And the Alabama Fusion Center is also responsible for the Alabama Center for Missing and Exploited Children and has done a great job in work in combating child exploitation. Do you believe that Congress is adequately funding programs that provide state and local agencies with the tools that they need to be effective in preventing and pursuing crimes such as child exploitation and human trafficking, particularly over the internet?
BARR: I think we could always use more resources for that, Congresswoman. But if I could just have a moment of your time to respond to these questions here that were being asked about the Roger Stone sentencing.
The U.S. Attorney came to me and said that the four line prosecutors were threatening to resign unless they could recommend seven to nine years. But there was no comparable case to support that. It would have been very disparate sense. All the cases were clustered around three years sentence for that.
And the way they had gotten to the seven to nine was by applying an enhancement. And there are debates all the time within the Department of Justice about the proper calculations under the guidelines and whether a particular enhancement applies or doesn't apply, and those are usually worked out or solved.
But here, they were saying that they were taking enhancement that has traditionally been applied to mafioso and things like that threatening a witness. And they were applying it to him because he had a phone call at night where he told the witness that if you want to get it on, let's get it on and I'll take your dog.
And we felt that technically could apply. But in this case, it really didn't reflect the underlying conduct. And the overarching requirement at the Department of Justice is that we do not presume and automatically apply the guidelines. We make individual assessments of the defendant and what is really just under the case, and nothing that is excessive.
And these individuals were trying to force the U.S. attorney who was new in the office to adopt seven to nine. And I made the decision no, we are going to leave it up to the judge. And that later when that was not done that evening, I told people, we had to go back and correct that the next morning. So that's the sequence of events.
But at the end of the day, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The judge said she would not have gone along. She didn't think with the first recommendation because the enhancement artificially inflated the exposure of the defendant. And she came at exactly where I had come out. So at the end of the day, the question is fairness to the individual.
And even though I was going to get a lot of criticism at the end -- for doing that, I think at the end of the day, my obligation is to be fair to the individual. Thank you for permitting me.
ROBY: Yes. I'm happy to have yielded you time to respond. That being said, Mr. Attorney General, as I am a departing member of Congress and have just a few short moments left, I just want to express to you in the Department how important this issue that I originally asked you about is to me both as a member of Congress representing my constituents in Alabama, but also as a mother of two beautiful children, and I'm increasingly alarmed about the way that children are just one click away from being on a website, a forum, or a chat room, or a social media site while where bad actors may be lurking.
And whereas I only have a few short seconds left, I would just ask you in the time that I have left in Congress that we could continue to work together to combat child exploitation and human trafficking. And I appreciate all the work that you're doing on this.
BARR: Absolutely, Congresswoman. And as you know, one of the most difficult issues coming up is encryption because as this material gets encrypted in the chat rooms and the areas where they groom these young children, once it becomes encrypted it will be very hard for us to police it.
ROBY: Right. Thank you so much. I yield back. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentlelady yields back. Ms. Bass.
REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): Attorney General Barr, when it comes to police engagement, last August when speaking to the National Fraternal Order of Police, you shared your views on police engagement with the public, you stated and I quote, underscore the need to comply first and if warranted, complain later. This will make everyone safe. The police suspects and the community at large and those who resist must be prosecuted. I repeat zero tolerance for resisting police, this will save lives. Do you stand by that statement?
BARR: Yes. I think it's very important.
BASS: A zero tolerance attitude is costing lives not saving them, especially in communities of color.
BARR: Well, I'm not saying that --
BASS: I reclaim my time. A movement and protests have arisen in response to police brutality. Here are a few examples of who bears the cost of zero tolerance. Elijah McClain was walking home from a convenience store when he was approached by police. He had not committed a crime. Police held him in a chokehold for 15 minutes, then injected him with Ketamine, not under a doctor's supervision but at the direction of non-medically trained and unlicensed police officers. Are you familiar with that case?
BASS: Do you know how frequently Ketamine is used by law enforcement to subdue civilians, especially people of color?
BASS: Did you know if police departments have been documented as directing paramedics and EMTs to inject Ketamine during arrest?
BASS: Have you -- well, then I guess you haven't evaluated the use of force tactics by -- because -- since becoming AG and specially this particular tactic of subduing suspects with Ketamine.
BARR: Not with respect to Ketamine, no.
BASS: Will you commit to directing the Department to evaluate the protocols around the use of Ketamine chokeholds and other methods used by federal law enforcement officials when making arrests or detaining subjects?
BARR: Absolutely. Under the President's Executive Order we are reviewing.
BASS: Thank you. And especially --
BARR: -- the use of force and working with police department.
BASS: Especially the Ketamine, that's pretty outrageous.
George Floyd was killed by a police officer via chokehold for eight minutes and 46 seconds. A police officer knelt on his neck as he begged for his life. He was suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill. That's how zero tolerance can amount to a death sentence for black men when used in communities of color, with George Floyd screaming as we all know he couldn't breathe.
Now consider James Holmes, who murdered 12 people and injured 70 others in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, the same town as Elijah McClain, where he was arrested. James wore body armor, had a knife, semi automatic weapons, and an AR-15, yet he was calmly arrested by the same police department as Elijah McClain without a chokehold or an injection of Ketamine.
Dylann Roof used a gun to murder nine people and injured another at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. When he was arrested, no chokeholds no injections, he was treated so well that officers brought Dylann Roof Burger King after arresting him. Are you familiar with that case?
BASS: I raised those two examples to follow up on what my colleague from Texas highlighted earlier that the Department is not doing enough to address issues of racism, bias, and brutality in law enforcement. When someone who commits mass murder is calmly arrested and serve Burger King, while a young man walking down the street is placed in a chokehold and injected with Ketamine then dies.
You said that, under the executive order, the administration is looking at chokehold. What have you determined so far?
BARR: Well, we're setting up a system of certification of police departments.