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Attorney General Barr Testifies Before House Lawmakers. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 28, 2020 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[13:00:00]

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: And part of our charter is, is to come up criteria that will be used for certification, including limitations on use of force, specifically including chokeholds.

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): So, in the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, part of it called for a national registry of law enforcement officers as a resource for police chiefs to determine who are the best candidates for jobs, as you may or may not be aware, Tamir Rice might be alive today if the police chief who hired him had known that that police officer had been fired from another department. What is your view of a national registry of law enforcement officers?

BARR: The second aspect of the president's executive order is to set up a database like that so that all determinations of excessive force around the country go into that database. And if police departments aren't reporting that information, they wouldn't be certified,

So we do believe in one national point where you can go in and get determinations of excessive force on law enforcement candidates for jobs.

BASS: Good. Thank you.

And I do want to comment on part of your opening statement when you were saying that after the Jim Crow period that our justice system was equal. And i don't believe that that's --

BARR: I said the law, I said the laws were made equal.

BASS: The laws were made equal there, certainly not applied equally. We do have systemic problems in our law enforcement system, our criminal justice system on every level. The fact of the matter is 2.3 million people in the United States are incarcerated. We incarcerate 24 percent of the world's prisoners, 34 percent are black while African-Americans are just 13 percent of the U.S. population.

So justice is still not equal, nor are our laws. And I think when we look at how many people are incarcerated or how many people are killed, it is not the numbers. It is the percentage to the percentage of that group in the U.S. population. I yield back my time.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): The gentle lady yields back. Mr. Gaetz? REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Attorney General, you have described the prosecution of Roger Stone as righteous. That's clearly something that the president and I disagree with you on. I would suggest that perhaps the prosecution of Andrew McCabe, who lied four times, thrice under the penalty of perjury, would be more righteous.

I would suggest to you that uncovering the criminal conspiracy that existed where people in our own government were trying to convince intelligence agents and operatives around the world to destabilize our elections and to discredit our president would perhaps be more righteous. But as we sit here today, I don't think that Mr. Stone or Mr. McCabe or any of those other folks are killing anyone, burning down our buildings. And so I'd like to focus our effort on the most acute need, I believe, our country has.

You've recently said that you believe Antifa to be a terrorist organization. What's your basis for that belief?

BARR: I'm not sure I said terrorist organization. I said we are investigating it as domestic terrorism. But Antifa, there are a number of violent extreme groups in the United States and they're across the spectrum. Antifa is heavily represented in the recent riots. That's not to say they're the only group involved. And they have been identified as involved in a number of the violent mob actions that have taken place around the country.

GAETZ: And, Mr. Attorney General, I saw the chairman of the Judiciary Committee recently say that Antifa is a myth, that their involvement in the violence isn't something that is real. What's your reaction to the chairman?

BARR: I don't think it's a myth. Antifa is -- can be best thought of I think as an umbrella term for what is essentially a movement comprised of loosely organized groups around the country. In some of areas of the country, there are a number of groups and there are sort of centers of activity.

The groups, as I say, are loosely organized, but they are definitely organized. But as -- since they have an archaic temperament, they don't get along very well with each together. So I'm suggesting it's a national organization that moves nationally.

They tend to get organized for an event and there's a lot of organization right before an event occurs, but we see a lot of the organization during the mob violence.

GAETZ: And that is a really important distinction when determining how to apply particularly our RICO laws to an organization like this. If Antifa is merely something that inspires people to go out and commit violence, that strikes me as legally distinct from Antifa being an organizing influence to assist people in committing crimes.

[13:05:09]

One question I get from my constituents as they watch the death and violence and disruption and chaos in Seattle and in Portland and in other places is whether or not there's a risk that that could metastasize to other areas of the country. Have you given consideration to the risk that might befall other American communities if the Department of Justice were not to take action to protect and preserve federal property in places like Portland?

BARR: Yes, absolutely. We are concerned about this problem metastasizing around the country. And so we feel that we have to, in a place like Portland, even where we don't have the support of the state -- local government, we have to take a stand and defend this federal property. We can't get to a level where we're going to accept these kind of violent attacks on federal courts.

GAETZ: And if you did what my Democrat colleagues were asking, if you merely abandon that federal property, allowed it to be overrun, allow the people inside to be harmed, is it your view then that Antifa and other violent people engaged in these acts would simply stop, would simply accept that as their sole victory or is it your expert opinion having dealt with a number of law enforcement and criminal cases in your legal career that they wouldn't stop, that they would go to the next town, to the next community and potentially inspire more violence?

BARR: There is no doubt in my mind that it would spread.

GAETZ: And what comfort can you give Americans in my district and around the country that you will stop this, that you will stop the burning and destruction of federal property and that you will give confidence to regular Americans that they can go out in the streets without the risk of this terrorism?

BARR: Well, as you can see in Portland, we have a relatively small number of federal officers who have been withstanding this for almost two months. It's a great strain. But we cannot just allow the federal court to be destroyed.

GAETZ: Thank you for your service and for your great work. I yield back.

NADLER: The gentleman yields back. Mr. Richmond?

REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D-LA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Attorney General Barr, you started your testimony with eloquent words about the life and legacy of John Lewis fighting systemic racism, voter intimidation, civil rights. The one thing that you have in common with your two predecessors, both Attorney General Sessions and Attorney General Whitaker, is that when you all came here and brought the top staff, you brought no black people.

That, sir, is systematic racism. That is what John Lewis spent his life fighting. And so I would just suggest that actions speak louder than words and you really should keep the name of the honorable John Lewis out of the Department of Justice's mouth.

Let me also say you mentioned, bogus Russia gate. In your opinion as the attorney general of the United States of America, did Russia interfere or attempt to interfere in the 2016 election?

BARR: Yes.

RICHMOND: In your position as the attorney general of the United States, is Russia attempting to interfere in the 2020 presidential election?

BARR: I think we have to assume that they are.

RICHMOND: Thank you, sir.

Now, let's talk about the integrity of the election, which is also something Congressman Lewis fought for. Jared Kushner implied that the president could move the Election Day. Can a sitting president move an election date?

BARR: Actually I haven't looked into that question under the Constitution.

RICHMOND: But to U.S. Code Section 7 says federal Election Day is the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. So if you take that as correct statute, is there any executive action by a president --

BARR: I've never been asked the question before. I've never looked into it.

RICHMOND: As attorney general of the United States, do you believe that this 2020 presidential election will be rigged?

BARR: I have no reason to think it will be.

RICHMOND: President Trump tweeted that the election will be rigged but he also tweeted that when he was losing to Hillary Clinton and he tweeted that the day after it was the Fox show that he was losing to Trump, but I don't want to be too political. Do you believe as the attorney general of the United States that mail-in voting will lead to massive voter fraud?

BARR: I think there's a high risk that it will.

RICHMOND: Do you ever vote by mail-in ballot?

BARR: Apparently, I did once at least.

RICHMOND: But you believe that other people voting by mail could lead to massive fraud?

BARR: No. What I have talked about, made very clear, is that I'm not talking about accommodations the people have to be out of the state or have some particular need not to -- inability to go and vote.

[13:10:07]

What I'm talking about is the wholesale conversion of election to mail-in voting.

RICHMOND: You understand that African-Americans disproportionately do not survive COVID-19 coronavirus? You are aware of that?

BARR: I didn't hear the question.

RICHMOND: You are aware that African-Americans, black people disproportionately die from COVID-19 coronavirus, correct?

BARR: Yes, I think that's right.

RICHMOND: And not that it would be the first time that African- Americans would risk their lives to vote in this country to preserve is democracy but the suggestion is that them having the ability to vote by mail would somehow lead to massive voter fraud. But I won't stick to that.

BARR: No, I didn't say that. I just stated what I think is a reality, which is that if you have wholesale mail-in voting, it substantially increases the risk of fraud.

RICHMOND: But it doesn't make it likely?

BARR: It's all I said.

RICHMOND: Now, I also saw on T.V. that the president said he is not sure that he will accept the election results. Can a president just protest because he lost an election?

BARR: Protest in what sense?

RICHMOND: Well, can he contest an election just because he simply loses?

BARR: Gore versus -- Bush V. Gore was --

RICHMOND: Well, I think that that was over a slim voter margin. I'm talking about if it is very clear that the president has lost an election, does he have a remedy to contest the election?

BARR: Not that I'm aware of.

RICHMOND: Let me go back to what Representative Bass mentioned. You mentioned the number that eight African-Americans killed by the police and 11 white people killed by the police.

BARR: So far this year.

RICHMOND: If you use those numbers, that's 85 percent of that population is white, 15 percent of that population is black. But if you actually look at the deaths according to the numbers you just gave, 42 percent of the deaths are African-American and 58 percent are white. That is a glaring disparity in terms of population. And I just give you those number because I have to --

BARR: Well, not necessarily. You have to adjust it by the race of the criminal perpetrator.

RICHMOND: No, I just did that for you. I'm using your numbers. And according to your numbers, African-Americans are four or five times more likely than the percentage of the population to be killed by police than a white counterpart. I just wanted to give you that based on your numbers.

BARR: Actually, the studies I have seen have suggested two things. One, that, in fact, police are less likely to shoot at a black suspect, a little bit more likely to shoot at white. However, that police are more inclined to use non-lethal force in a contact with an African-American suspect. So those are the -- in terms of the statistics, that's what it looks like to me.

RICHMOND: Any data that you have that shows that African-Americans are less likely to die at the hands of police or be shot or shot at, to me, is an incorrect analysis, but I am interested in seeing it. So if you have it, please see it. I won't call it any names. But if that data exists, I would be more than happy to see it.

And since you're sending me that data, can you send me the data of African-Americans within the Department of Justice, how many you have in leadership ranks all the way down? Thank you. And I yield back.

NADLER: The gentleman yields back. I would remind Mr. Jordan, Mr. Biggs and Mr. Johnson to stop violating the rules of the committee, to stop violating the safety of the members of the committee, to stop holding themselves out as not caring by refusing to wear their masks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it permissible to drink coffee?

NADLER: It is not permissible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not to drink?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't drink coffee in the --

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): I'm ready to ask a question now.

NADLER: Mr. Gaetz is right here.

JORDAN: No, no, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He went, and that's why I took off my mask, Mr. Chairman.

JORDAN: I'm going to go. I'm going to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Okay.

NADLER: Mr. Jordan is recognized.

JORDAN: Mr. Attorney General, let's clear up a few things. The Judge Berman Jackson agreed with your Stone sentencing recommendations. Is that right?

BARR: That's right.

JORDAN: Yes. And he said, I am concerned seven to nine years would be greater than necessary. I agree with the defense and with the government's second memorandum. So it couldn't be more clear they agreed with you.

BARR: That's right.

JORDAN: Lafayette Square, would the St. John's Church be standing today if you had not taken action?

BARR: Well, I think that was on Sunday night. And I think law enforcement did use tear gas. And my understanding is that night to clear the way so that the fire trucks get in to save St. John's Church.

JORDAN: The church --

BARR: That was on Sunday night though.

[13:15:00]

JORDAN: I understand. I understand the timeframe. But would it be standing today if there had not been action taken by federal law enforcement and local law enforcement?

BARR: Right.

JORDAN: 38 people unmasked Michael Flynn's name 49 times in a two- month timeframe. Seven people at the treasury department unmasked Michael Flynn's name. Is this an issue that Mr. Durham is looking into?

BARR: I've asked another U.S. attorney to look into the issue of unmasking because of, you know, the high number of unmaskings and some that do not readily appear to have been in the line of normal business.

JORDAN: Wait a minute. I want to be clear. So there is another investigation on that issue specifically going on at the Justice Department right now?

BARR: Yes.

JORDAN: Wow, that's great. So Mr. Durham is looking at how the whole Trump-Russia thing started? You have another U.S. attorney. Can you give us that U.S. attorney's name or is that something you're comfortable doing?

BARR: John Bash of Texas.

JORDAN: John Bash of Texas is looking specifically at the fact?

BARR: At unmasking.

JORDAN: 38 people 49 times unmasked Michael Flynn's name, and probably other unmaskings that took place in the final days of the Obama/Biden administration. Is that correct?

BARR: Actually a much longer period of time.

JORDAN: Even before that?

BARR: Yes.

JORDAN: Thank you. I appreciate that. That's information that the committee did not know.

Are peaceful protests violent, Mr. Attorney General?

BARR: No.

JORDAN: Do peaceful protests destroy businesses?

BARR: No.

JORDAN: Do peaceful protests injure officers?

BARR: No.

JORDAN: Do peaceful protests attack civilians?

BARR: No.

JORDAN: Do peaceful protests burn down buildings?

BARR: No.

JORDAN: The video we played, it's hard to watch. It's really hard to watch to see that happening in our great country. But there was -- the start of it was almost laughable, where you have the reporter saying, as a building is burning him, it's not generally speaking an unruly protest, it's mostly just a protest. I mean, it's almost laughable when you have that reporter saying, I guess, he's saying it's not a fire, it's just a burning building. I guess he's saying it's a peaceful burning building.

A few weeks ago -- Well, let me ask you this. I want to go right to this. Is defunding the police a rational policy?

BARR: No. I think, if anything, I'm more concerned that the police be adequately funded today and get more resources. A lot of the things we need to do to address some of the concerns people have about what they saw in Minneapolis are going to take some resources, some of the training that we have to do.

And of the difficulties in our country -- it's not difficulty, it's a fact. We have 18,000 law enforcement agencies, most of them are very, very small. And so we have to find a way of training, you know, making sure the training is pushed out.

JORDAN: Is it dangerous to defund the police?

BARR: Extremely dangerous.

JORDAN: Extremely dangerous. And some of the ordinances as you're seeing cities pass are also dangerous. Are you familiar with the letter that Chief of Police of Seattle Carmen Best sent to business owners and residents in that city?

BARR: Yes, I am, saying that she cannot protect, she can't do her job, her police force cannot do the job because --

JORDAN: It's exactly what she said. It gives the officers -- the policy they're trying to pass -- thank goodness, the court stopped it, the policy they are trying to pass gives officers no ability. She emphasized, no, not us, not you, Mr. Attorney, not me, gives officers no ability to safely intercede to preserve property in the midst of large violent crowds.

She also said in that letter -- and, again, she is taking the leadership and responsibility to tell the business owners, the citizens that she is supposed to serve. She also tells in that letter, I have done my due diligence on informing the council numerous. So she is saying, I tried to tell them. These people won't listen to me.

And then, finally, she says this, and this is the scary part. This is why it's so dangerous. She says this in her letter. Seattle Police will have an adjusted deployment. That's a nice way of saying, you're on your own. we can't help you. That's how scary this defund the police.

And here is the kicker. Here is the kicker. These same cities sent you a letter last week, the same week Chief of Police Best does this to the residents and citizens of her city. Her mayor sends you a letter blaming you, blaming the federal government for the violence that is happening in these cities. That is how ridiculous the left's position has become.

I appreciate the work you do, Mr. Attorney General. I'm over time I yield back.

BARR: Thank you.

NADLER: The gentleman yields. Mr. Jeffries?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Mr. Barr, the job of the attorney general is to defend the best interest of the people and serve as the people's lawyer. But during your time as attorney general, you have consistently undermined democracy, undermined the Constitution and undermined the health, safety and well-being of the American people, all to personally benefit Donald Trump.

Now, you testified that there's no mechanism for a president to contest an election that has clearly been won by the opponent.

[13:20:05]

Mr. Attorney General, what will you do if Donald Trump loses the election on November 3rd but refuses to leave office on January 20th?

BARR: If the results are clear, I would leave office. JEFFRIES: Do you believe that there is any basis or legitimacy to Donald Trump's recent claim that he can't provide an answer as to whether he would leave office?

BARR: I really am not familiar with these comments or the context in which they occurred, so I'm not going to give commentary on them.

JEFFRIES: Okay, thank you. He just stated that publicly about a week ago to Fox News. Mr. Barr, during a radio interview this spring with Hugh Hewitt, you praised president trump's coronavirus response as superb, correct?

BARR: Who did?

JEFFRIES: You did.

BARR: Okay.

JEFFRIES: Over 150,000 Americans have died. More than 4 million Americans have been infected. More than 5 million Americans have lost their healthcare. Over 100,000 small businesses have permanently closed. More than 50 million Americans are out of work. This is not the outcome of superb leadership. What we have gotten from Donald Trump is exactly the opposite.

Let's explore.

BARR: Well, I disagree with it.

JEFFRIES: That was not a question. That was a statement. Let's explore.

In February, President Trump falsely claimed that the number of coronavirus cases would go from 15 to 0 in a few days. Was that superb? Yes or no?

BARR: I would have to see the context in which it was said.

JEFFRIES: Here is the context. The number of cases didn't go down to zero. It's over 4 million.

Let's go to March. In that month, President Trump said, I take no responsibility at all for the failure in testing. Was that superb, yes or no?

BARR: It was accurate. The problem with the testing system was a function of President Obama's mishandling of the CDC and efforts to centralize everything in the CDC when --

JEFFRIES: Thank you, thank you, Mr. Barr. That is inaccurate. That's a myth and a lie.

BARR: It wasn't until this --

JEFFRIES: Reclaiming my time. In April, President Trump irresponsibly suggested that the American people inject themselves with bleach. Was that superb? Yes or no?

BARR: That's not what I heard.

JEFFRIES: That's exactly what he said. That's what the American people heard and you know it and you can't defend it.

Let's move on to May. In that month, on National Nurses Day, President Trump falsely called PPE shortages fake news. While nurses and other healthcare professionals resorted to wearing trash bags and ski goggles to protect themselves, fake news. Was that superb? Yes or no?

BARR: I think the administration did a good job of mustering PPE. And the national supply of PPE was run down during the Obama administration and never replaced.

JEFFRIES: Thank you, Mr. Barr. The answer is, no, it was not superb.

By June, President Trump irresponsibly continued to refuse to wear a mask despite the public health guidance from his own experts. Was that superb? Yes or no?

BARR: Which guidance? The earlier guidance that the masks wouldn't work?

JEFFRIES: You know the guidance that we are talking about. The CDC and Dr. Fauci in April recommended that the American people wear masks but Donald Trump has become the poster boy for the anti-mask movement.

BARR: Donald Trump is probably tested more than any other human being on the face of the earth and --

JEFFRIES: Mr. Barr, the answer is the refusal to wear a mask is not superb.

Last question. In July, President Trump falsely claimed that 99 percent of COVID-19 cases are, quote, totally harmless. Was that superb? Yes or no?

BARR: I think essentially what he was saying is that the fatality rate relatively is very low, very low.

JEFFRIES: The answer 150,000 Americans are dead. It has been a failure of epic proportions. In fact, Donald Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic has been the worst failure of any president in American history. And the American people have paid the price. I yield back.

NADLER: The gentleman yields back. Who seeks recognition?

REP. ANDY BIGGS (R-AZ): Well, I guess I do. I think it's my turn to speak and ask questions. Is that correct, Mr. Chairman? Then I seek recognition, sir.

NADLER: The gentleman is recognized.

[13:25:00] BIGGS: Bless your heart. Thank you.

Attorney General Barr, Chairman Nadler opened up his statement by saying you can no longer hide behind a legal fiction. That caused me some consternation. I have no idea what he's talking about. Do you have any idea what he's talking about?

BARR: I don't recall that phrase. In what context?

BIGGS: Well, who knows what context? I mean, he was just kind of rattling on there but he was attacking you and your performance in virtually everything he could and said you could no longer hide behind a legal fiction, and I didn't see any connection with anything else he had been saying. So I wonder if you had seen anything? Apparently you didn't see it either.

The next person to ask questions is the gentle lady of California, who consistently referred to civilian federal agents at federal troops, and intimating, if you will, that Portland was peaceable until federal civilian agents arrived on the scene. Essentially, it's kind of analogous to blaming a fire department for showing up to put out a fire and then being blamed for starting the fire.

Attorney General Barr, let's just have it on the record, was there violence and attempts to burn down, vandalize the building and attack civilian employees of the federal government prior to any other federal agents or the reinforcements sent in, the federal agents?

BARR: Yes. My recollection is our main effort to reinforce was around the 4th of July period and then it had been going on for quite a while before that.

BIGGS: Let's talk about Lafayette Square for a second. Leading up to June 1st, you had violent mobs disobeying the curfew. They said fire depart cars, demolished coffee shops and banks, burned American flags and even intentionally set fire to the St. John's Episcopal Church near Lafayette Square. Secret Service and park police appropriate use of safe, restorative force actually cleared that up. In total, however, 51 U.S. park police were injured during the weekend leading to the perimeter expansion.

Do you want to expand on the actions during the Lafayette Park?

BARR: Right. So, for the 29, 30th and 31st, there was unprecedented rioting right around the White House, very violent. During that time, as you say, about 50 park police and a comparable number is my recollection of Secret Service. So we had I think around 90 officers injured. I'm talking about things like concussions, one was operated on and so forth.

We had the -- it was so bad that as it's been reported the Secret Service recommended the president go down to the shelter. We had a breach of the treasury department. The historical building on Lafayette Park was burned down, the lodge. St. John's was set on fire. Bricks were thrown at the police repeatedly. They took crowbars and pried up the pavers at Lafayette Park and threw those at the police. Balloons of caustic liquid were thrown on the police.

And it was clear when I arrived at the White House on Monday, it was total consensus that we couldn't allow that to happen so close to the White House, that kind of rioting. And, therefore, we had to move the perimeter out one block and push it up toward I Street.

And there was already a plan in being at that point that the park police and the Secret Service had worked out the night before, which was to put the perimeter further away and then give them time to put a non-scalable fence across the northern part of the park.

During the day -- during Monday, the factor that is led to the timing of it were that that movement was going to be made as soon as there were enough units in place to actually perform it and units were very slow getting into the day throughout the day, much to my frustration because I wanted to move it before there was a build-up of demonstrators.

And also the fencing had to be delivered. And when those things were accomplished, the tactical commander in charge of the park police proceeded with the movement of pushing the perimeter.

So this was something conceived of long before and didn't turn on the nature of the crowd although I would say the crowd was very unruly. And while the tactical considerations were made by the park police, you know, they tried to respond to the situation.

To say that this had to do with the photo-op is, and I don't mean to analogize this to a military operation, but it's akin to saying that we invaded the Philippines in World War II so Douglas MacArthur could walk through the surf on the beach.

[13:30:03]

One follows the other. But we did not invade the Philippines so that Douglas MacArthur could walk to the beach.