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A.G. Barr Testifies Before House Lawmakers; Democrats Question A.G. Barr. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 28, 2020 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): They were about the persistent killing of black bodies by law enforcement. And finally, finally, an awakening in America of the conscience of our country.

And yet your response, Mr. Barr, was to direct federal officers to close in on the protesters, and to use shields offensively as weapons; tear gas, pepper balls, irritants, explosive devices, batons and horses to clear the area just so the president could get a photo op.

So I do want to ask you, do you think that your response, do you think the response at Lafayette Square to tear gas, pepper spray and beat protesters and injure American citizens who were just simply exercising their First Amendment rights was appropriate?

BARR: Well, first, it's my understanding that no tear gas was used on Monday, June 1st.

JAYAPAL: Mr. Barr, that is a semantic distinction that has been proven false by many fact-checkers. Do you think...

BARR: How is it -- how is it semantic? Tear gas is a particular compound.

JAYAPAL: You talked about chemical irritants, and it has been proven false by reports.

So just answer the question, do you think that...

BARR: Well, I think pepper...

JAYAPAL: ... it was appropriate at Lafayette Park to pepper spray, tear gas and beat protesters and injure American citizens?

BARR: Well, I don't accept your characterization of what happened. But as I explained, the effort there was...


JAYAPAL: Mr. Barr, I just asked for a yes or no.

So let me just tell you, I'm starting to lose my temper. According to sworn testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee by Army National Guard Officer Adam DeMarco, who was there, this was, quote, "an unprovoked escalation, an excessive use of force against peaceful protesters"... (CROSSTALK)

BARR: Well, I don't remember -- I don't remember DeMarco as being...

JAYAPAL: ... numerous media reports have confirmed...

BARR: ... I don't remember DeMarco...


JAYAPAL: Mr. Barr, excuse me. This is my time.


BARR: ... as being involved in any of the decision-making.

JAYAPAL: Sir, sir. The president told governors on a telephone call that the way to deal with the protesters of police brutality and systemic racism, like in Lafayette Square, is that, quote, "You have to get much tougher. You have to dominate. If you don't dominate, you're wasting your time. These are terrorists."

And he also talked about you on that call, sir. Here's what he said. He said, "The attorney general is here, Bill Barr, and we will activate Bill Barr and activate him strongly."

Do you remember that call, Mr. Barr?

BARR: Yes, I do. But he wasn't talking about protesters, he was talking about rioters (ph).


JAYAPAL: Mr. Barr, apparently, the president believes that you can be activated to implement the president's agenda and dominate American people exercising First Amendment rights if they're protesting against him.

But let's look at how you respond when the protesters are supporters of the president. On two separate occasions, after President Trump tweeted, "Liberate Michigan" to subvert stay-home orders to protect the public health of people in Michigan, protesters swarmed the Michigan capital carrying guns, some with swastikas, Confederate flags and one even with a dark-haired doll with a noose around its neck.

Are you aware that these protesters called for the governor to be lynched, shot and beheaded?


JAYAPAL: You're not aware of that?

BARR: I was not aware.

JAYAPAL: Major protests in Michigan, you're the attorney general and you didn't know that the protesters called for the governor to be lynched, shot and beheaded?

BARR: Well...

JAYAPAL: So obviously, you couldn't be concerned about that. You -- you didn't (ph)...


BARR: Well, there are a lot of protests around the United States and on June 1st, I was worried about the District of Columbia...


JAYAPAL: Attorney General Barr, you seem to be engaging in protests in certain...

BARR: ... which is federal.

JAYAPAL: ... parts of the country, you're very aware of those. But when protesters with guns and swastikas and Confederate flags...


BARR: I'm very -- I am aware of protesters in the federal government...

JAYALAL: Excuse me, Mr. Barr, this is my time. And I control it.

You are aware of certain kinds of protesters, but in Michigan, when protesters carry guns and Confederate flags and swastikas and call for the governor of Michigan to be beheaded and shot and lynched, somehow, you're not aware of that. Somehow, you didn't know about it so you didn't send federal agents in to do to the president's supporters what you did to the president's protesters. in fact, you didn't -- you didn't put pepper balls on those protesters.

So the point I'm trying to make here, Mr. Barr, that I think is very important for the country to understand, is that there is a real discrepancy in how you react at the attorney general -- the top cop in this country -- when white men with swastikas storm a government building with guns. There is no need for the president to, quote, "activate" you because they're getting the president's personal agenda done.

But when black people and people of color protest police brutality, systemic racism and the president's very own lack of response to those critical issues, then you forcibly remove them with armed federal officers, pepper bombs because they are considered terrorists by the president.


You take an aggressive approach to Black Lives Matter protests, but not to right-wing extremists threatening to lynch a governor if it's for the Trump's -- if it's for the president's benefit. Did I get it right, Mr. Barr? BARR: I have responsibility for the federal government, and the White House is the seat of the executive branch...


JAYAPAL: Mr. Barr, let me just make it clear, you are supposed to represent the people...

BARR: ... not for the -- the Michigan authorities can handle -- the Michigan authorities can handle...

JAYAPAL: ... of the United States of America, not violate people's First Amendment rights. You are supposed to...

NADLER: The gentlelady...

JAYAPAL: ... uphold democracy and secure equal justice under the law, not violently dismantle certain protesters based on the president's personal agenda.

NADLER: The gentlelady's time is expired.

JAYAPAL: Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask unanimous consent to also introduce into the record a report from the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, which says that over the past 20 years, more than 250 million ballots have been cast by mail and the fraud rate is 0.00006 percent.

NADLER: Without objection.

Mr. Reschenthaler?

RESCHENTHALER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And thank you, A.G. Barr, for being here today. I truly appreciate it. And I'm sincere when I say it's an honor.

A.G. Barr, let me just...


BARR: Yeah. Could I just ask you for one minute, though?

RESCHENTHALER: To respond? Yeah.

BARR: Yeah. As I made clear, moving H Street out to I Street as the perimeter was a decision made the day before. It was justified by the extreme rioting that was going on around the White House.

I don't remember Captain DeMarco, who was the same Captain DeMarco who ran as a Democrat, a candidate for Congress in Maryland, even being close to the discussions as to what was going on.

Now, the fact is that the movement was not geared to the behavior of that particular crowd, it was geared to the fact that we were moving the perimeter out so we could put a fence up on H Street, by H Street. So -- but it is a fact that the Park Police reported -- and I saw it myself -- projectiles being thrown from that crowd, so I did not consider them at all peaceful protesters.

I'm sorry, thank you for giving me that opportunity.

RESCHENTHALER: You're welcome, A.G. Barr.

A.G. Barr, I'd like to also talk about the violent protests that are -- they're being seen in Seattle, specifically CHAZ and also Portland, Oregon. As you know, over the course of June and early July, several shootings occurred inside Seattle's police-free zone, including the tragic murders of a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old. There were numerous reports of robberies, assaults and property destruction as well.

BARR: Sexual assaults as well.

RESCHENTHALER: Yes. And despite all this, all this chaos, all this violence, it took the Seattle mayor literally weeks to declare this an unlawful gathering. It took weeks before the police were allowed to clear that area.

In similar circumstances, let's talk about Portland, Oregon. It's been going through eight weeks of violent rioting int he streets as well. Rioters continue, in fact, to fire projectiles and mortar-style fireworks at federal law enforcement officers. And are using dangerous lasers, which have already permanently blinded at least three federal officers.

Yet our own chairman, Chairman Jerry Nadler, told a reporter on Sunday, that the anarchy and violence going on in Portland -- and I quote the chairman -- "is a myth that is spread only in Washington, D.C.," end quote.

Attorney General Barr, is it in fact a myth that there's anarchy and anarchist groups engaging in violence in Portland?

BARR: I think there are anarchists and far-left groups that are involved in the violence in Portland. I actually think that the chairman's comment was about Antifa. I'm not -- I don't know exactly what he said, but I thought he was referring to Antifa.

RESCHENTHALER: Do you think it's a myth that Antifa is involved in this anarchy?

BARR: No, I think Antifa is involved in Portland.

RESCHENTHALER: So either way, the chairman's comments were not correct, were not accurate?

BARR: I didn't consider them accurate

RESCHENTHALER: What about the autonomous zone in Seattle? Congresswoman Jayapal has said -- and I quote -- that it's "a peaceful protest zone." Is it a peaceful protest zone? BARR: No. As I already said, it's outrageous that, you know, people set themselves and -- over a piece of territory, where the people in there have not selected them as the government, and tried to exercise sovereign authority. That's an outrage.

And, you know, we saw people handing out guns to people to, quote, "keep the peace" and so forth, it was anarchy there.


RESCHENTHALER: Your office has already charged several violent protesters with federal crimes. Can you just briefly elaborate on those crimes?

BARR: Well, they're the whole gamut. I think -- I think we've had 224, they run the gaum from throwing Molotov cocktails to, you know, assaulting a police officer, that kind of thing.

RESCHENTHALER: Thank you, A.G. Barr.

I just want to say that I think -- and I don't know if you agree -- that CHAZ and Portland are really like political experiments. They really show us what would happen if we fully embraced the radical ideology of the social justice Democrats. You know, according to Democrats, it's the summer of love. According to the congresswoman that represents Seattle, it's a peaceful protest zone.

Attorney General Barr, in reality, these cities are experiencing violence, chaos and frankly just anarchy. So I think this political experiment has showed us that the liberal social justice Democrat style of government has failed. Would you like to comment on that, Attorney General Barr?

BARR: Well, when I was first being -- going through confirmation, I expressed concern about violence getting into our political system. We'd seen some -- this intolerance, and attacking people. And I was very worried about that. And now, we've seen it sweeping through the country like this and I hope the Democratic Party takes a stand against the violence.

RESCHENTHALER: Thank you, and I yield my time.

NADLER: The gentleman yields back.

Ms. Demings?

DEMINGS: Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Barr, during your -- over here.

BARR: I'm sorry.


DEMINGS: Over here in the corner. Earlier, during your testimony, you talked about gun violence. And you asked the question, "What about those lives?" And yes, Mr. Barr, those lives do matter. But do you believe that police officers should be held or are held to a higher standard?

BARR: Yes. And you know, someone mentioned my comment about we shouldn't permit resistance, we shouldn't take that as a matter of course. But I'd never suggest that just because someone resists, that that justified whatever's done, by no means...


DEMINGS: Thank you so much for that...


BARR: ... by no means that it does.

DEMINGS: ... because good police officers also believe that they are held to a higher standard, so I'm glad to hear you say that.

As a former police detective, I have solved many cases based on patterns of behavior. And there is an alarming pattern, I believe, that's developing. It appears, Mr. Barr, every time a U.S. attorney investigates the president or those close to him, he or she is removed and replaced by one of your friends. You have removed U.S. attorneys in the Eastern District of New York, the District of Columbia, and the Eastern District of Texas.

On June 19th, you announced Mr. Berman would be stepping down. And let me just be clear. When you told America that Mr. Berman was stepping down, did Mr. Berman tell you he was stepping down?

BARR: No, but -- but...


DEMINGS: OK. On June...


BARR: ... stepping down is the language that I am told...

DEMINGS: He didn't -- OK, he did not tell you that?

BARR: No, no...


BARR: ... but it's the language we usually use to leave -- to leave flexibility as...


BARR: ... to whether the person is doing it on their own...


DEMINGS: On June 20th, when asked about the basis for Mr. Berman's removal on the very day you announced he was being fired -- stepping down -- the president's personal attorney, Mr. Giuliani, suggested that -- and I quote -- "the reason may lie in the fact that Berman's office got involved" in what Giuliani described as "baseless investigations."

Sir, if that wasn't true, if you didn't remove Mr. Berman because he was overseeing investigations of the president and those close to him, why would the president's personal attorney think that?

BARR: I'm sorry, what did he say and when? I didn't hear the quote.

DEMINGS: Mr. Giuliani suggests that...

BARR: OK, when? When?

DEMINGS: June 20th, June 20th. That he may have been fired because he was investigating baseless investigations.

BARR: Well, if he said that, that's nonsense. Number one, anyone familiar with the Department of Justice would say that removing a component head is not going to have any effect on any pending investigation.

DEMINGS: OK, and I know you're aware of reports that Berman's office was in fact investigating the president's former personal attorney Mr. Cohen, his current personal attorney Mr. Giuliani, his current personal attorney's associates, and his presidential inauguration.

Mr. Barr...

BARR: I don't mean to suggest, just by my silence, that I'm confirming that. That seems to be your opinion.

DEMINGS: OK, all right. Have you in any way attempted to influence or interfere with any investigation in the Southern District, including the investigations I just mentioned?

BARR: I have not interfered in any investigation. I've raised questions on occasion about certain matters, but as far as I'm aware, the -- the -- I -- the office was satisfied with the resolution -- with the resolution...



DEMINGS: Mr. Berman testified your efforts to remove him bypassed the normal operation of law. Now we know the OLC ...


BARR: No, they didn't. No, they didn't. DEMINGS: ... opinion in the case that a sitting president cannot be indicted or criminally prosecuted because you made sure President Trump understood that in your 19 page or however long application -- job application.

However, you are aware the Special Counsel confirmed that a sitting president can be investigated. You did read that in the Special Counsel's report. Is that correct?

BARR: Yes.

DEMINGS: Given Mr. Trump's residence and formal business location, the Southern District, Berman's office would have decision making authority over whether to investigate the president in himself and you removed him.

BARR: I've explained why I -- why I removed him.

DEMINGS: OK. Sitting here today under penalty of perjury, do you still maintain that you stated in a February 13th interview that the president has never asked you to do anything in a criminal case? Yes or no, please?

BARR: Yes. No -- I mean do I confirm it, is that the question?

DEMINGS: No, do you stand by your testimony or your ...

BARR: He's never asked me, directed me, pressured me to do anything in a criminal case.

DEMINGS: OK. All right. You are aware -- I think you had this conversation earlier with one of my colleagues -- that the president's former attorney, Mr. Cohen, was released early from prison due to concerns of COVID-19.

BARR: Yes.

DEMINGS: OK. And why did you support the decision to send Mr. Cohen back to prison.

BARR: I didn't -- I didn't even know the decision to send him back to prison.

DEMINGS: Did you support it based -- after you ...

BARR: Well, I haven't looked into it enough but my understanding of what it happened was ...


DEMINGS: Mr. Barr -- Mr. Barr, as a former ...


(UNKNOWN): The gentlewoman's time has expired. DEMINGS: The president has made a mockery of the Department of Justice and I believe as the nation's top cop, no one should care more about that than you.

BARR: The Bureau of Prisons ...


(UNKNOWN): Mr. Armstrong is recognized for five minutes.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Madam Chair. 10 years ago this summer in July, my hometown it was a beautiful day. People were golfing, kids were swimming, everybody was playing baseball. Just a perfect, gorgeous, sunny summer day in Dickinson, North Dakota.

In the span of eight minutes a tornado came through and destroyed -- caused unbelievable economic devastation. I don't think everybody -- anybody woke up the next morning and said it was a mostly peaceful day.

And I want us to talk specifically about what's going on Portland with you, Mr. Attorney General, because for 61 nights the federal court house is under siege but not just the court house, federal agents are under siege.

You have men and women there protecting that court house. Now I have no doubt if they were there that courthouse would not be standing right now. Would you agree with that?

BARR: Absolutely.

ARMSTRONG: And I think one of our problems is how we talk about this and how it's covered versus what is actually going on every single night in -- in Portland at that courthouse.

Can you explain what your officers and your agents are going through over there?

BARR: Yes. The -- I'm talking about the U.S. Marshalls who were in the courthouse, they've initially tried to contain themselves in the courthouse. There have been efforts to push through in -- in the main door when people have succeeded in breaching the court house they have thrown kerosene and fireworks and started fires.

So then the effort was to make sure that they cannot breach. There still have been breaches into the courthouse but basically they try to remain in there and starting after the 4th, they tried to arrest the people who were directing fireworks.

They would climb up on to the side of the court, break windows, shoot fireworks. And -- and whenever the Marshalls came out to try to put an end to that or interdict it, they were shot at with slingshots, lasers were constantly being put into their eyes even when they're inside the court house. There's a good description of it in an ...

(CROSSTALK) ARMSTRONG: I was just going to quote that, we don't have to take your word. I watched as injured officers were hauled inside. In one case the commercial firework was -- came over so fast the officer didn't have time to respond.

It burned through his sleeve and he had bloody gashes on both forearms. Another had a concussion from being hit in the head with a mortar.

BARR: Right. That's right. And we've had a lot of injuries out there and these are people who this Congress has charged with protection federal courts. They're directed to protect federal courts in the U.S. code and they are under attack. They're being injured and it's been constant for 60 days.

ARMSTRONG: Acting Secretary Wolf has said that the violent mobs are publishing personal information of federal officers, jeopardizing not only them but their families. Why is docking (ph) federal agents so dangerous and are you concerned about it?


BARR: Well, it's dangerous because people can take retaliation against their homes, their families or -- or them when they're -- when they're buy themselves. You know I see some of these Latin American countries in Central America where the police are very, very brave because the gangs they're trying to deal with go to their houses and kill their families.

And you never think that could happen here but you could never think some of the stuff we're seeing today could ever happen here.

ARMSTRONG: Is being burned by essentially improved explosive device, being blinded by lasers; is this something that typically happens with federal Marshalls in federal court houses?

BARR: No, not at all.

ARMSTRONG: How is this handled -- how is this going for recruitment morale, how are they doing? I mean I generally want to know how are they doing?

BARR: Well, I think that IP story you know gives you a feel. They -- they feel that's their duty and they feel that's where they have to be. A number of them are from that area. But they're extremely tired and you know we've had to rotate in some more -- or put in some more people because they're very, very tired and you make mistakes when you're tired.

ARMSTRONG: Well, and I think that's an important part because I think one of the most amazing parts of this whole, it started with under 30 agents there and now it's still under 100. 61 nights in a row they defend against a siege, fires burning down these things (ph).

You know what's the most amazing thing, they get up every morning in that court house to still run it. They're still conducting the federal governments business. So I'm going to say something that I think should be -- should be said a lot more often.

Tell them thank you. Tell the court house personnel thank you, tell the clerks thank you, tell the prosecutors thank you, tell the judges thank you. And if -- if -- if you can handle it can you tell the public defenders thank you too because they're still conducting the business. They do this every single night. Are they getting sleep?

BARR: The Marshalls aren't -- are having a difficult because the demonstrators go to the hotel. They also go from hotel to hotel because the demonstrators try to disrupt their sleep at the hotel.

ARMSTRONG: And there's a difference between a protest and a riot. Every night at some point in time in Portland it turns into a riot. Eventually when you wake up the next morning and you know what's going to happen again, then we need to figure out a way to stop it.

And then just one last question. Why would we have to negotiate a cease fire with a peaceful protest?

BARR: You're correct. But why would -- that's -- that's right. You know all -- we don't want -- what we would like to see and what we would like is what we see in the rest of the country which is state and local law enforcement taking care of their own city and taking care of the streets around the courthouse.

(UNKNOWN): The gentleman's time is expired.

NADLER: Mr. Correa is recognized.

CORREA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Barr welcome. Let's talk a little bit about the census if we can. As you know that's the process where every 10 years we decide how many congressional seats each state gets, how much funding for schools, healthcare, other issues each region gets.

Let's talk about the president's memo directing the commerce (ph) secretary to exclude undocumented immigrants from the apportionment (ph) count of the 2020 census count. Mr. Barr, the president is essentially saying something, trying to do something that's constitutional and illegal.

The 14th Amendment, and I quote Representative Shelby, a portion (ph) among several states according their respective numbers, counting whole numbers of person in each state and then federal law, as you know, two USC subsection 2A and I quote, the president shall transmit to the Congress a statement showing the whole number of persons in each state. Did I read those correctly, sir, more or less?

BARR: Yes.

CORREA: Do you agree that the president's memo essentially violates the constitution?


CORREA: Are undocumented people not whole individuals?

BARR: They're not what?

CORREA: Are undocumented individuals in this country not whole people?

BARR: They are -- they are obviously people but the legal issue there was the terminology of the Constitution ...

CORREA: Well, if I may ...

BARR: ... it reflects -- it reflects the decision at the time of the Constitution that they count ...


CORREA: If I may reclaim my time, sir. Just -- you used to work for the Department of Justice. Back in 1989 there was a letter written to Senator Jeff Bingaman by the DOJ on point, there's a slide -- there's the letter and I would ask unanimous consent to admit that to the record.

NADLER: Without objection.


CORREA: And I quote "in the past, the Department of Justice has taken the position that section two of the Fourteenth Amendment, that the original Apportionment and Census Clause of Article I, section two of the Constitution requires that inhabitants of states who are illegal aliens be included in the census count, and in our view this issue today, we have found no basis for reversing that position."

Are you reversing that position now?

BARR: Well I think what the department advised is that what -- this came up because Alabama claims you cannot count illegal aliens in the census under the Constitution. The Department looked at it and advised that Congress can determine the meaning of "inhabitant" for this purpose, that there -- that it is not a self-defining term as they ...

CORREA: Only got two minutes, sir ...

BARR: ... that they recognized ...

CORREA: Mr. Barr, if I may ...

BARR: Yeah, but this is a hearing. I thought I was the one that was supposed to be heard.

CORREA: Well let me -- and I'm going to get there. The current dispute -- you -- you talked back when the Supreme Court struck down the President's attempt to put a citizenship question on the census. At that time, the President announced an executive order to collect citizenship information by other means and at that time, you made reference to a current dispute over whether illegal aliens can be included in the Apportionment purposes. Is that what you're referring to now, sir?

BARR: I think that -- I could've been referring to the Alabama case.

CORREA: So ...

BARR: I can't remember what I ...

CORREA: ... is the DOJ studying this issue, have you concluded ...

BARR: Yes.

CORREA: Can you provide this committee with discussions, any research, any concluding memos on that issue?

BARR: I'll -- I'll look into it but the -- we have considered it and I -- as I said, our advice is -- has been that Congress does have the power to define the term "inhabitant" to -- in -- either include or exclude it ...

CORREA: Well we're talking about the President's executive orders here, sir.

BARR: Well Congress has delegated that power to the Commerce Secretary. So as the law stands now, we think the Commerce Secretary, as the delegate of congressional power, can define that term but that is a reasonable -- that's a reasonable argument to make.

CORREA: Mr. Attorney General, in the last few seconds I have, president has to be within the law. Nobody is above the law in this country, including the President of the United States. My concern is he goes around doing tweets, memos, dictums that are clearly unconstitutional. My district, sir, is a working class, hard working community -- immigrants, the greatest generation. All we want is equity.

Based on the census, we want to make sure we get our federal dollars like everybody else around the country, we want to make sure that our representation is equal, individual -- individual -- in Orange County (ph) as it is in other parts of the country.

All that we ask for is respect, sir. I ask you please tell the President stop tweeting things, stop writing memos that are clearly, clearly unconstitutional. Thank you very much and I yield.

NADLER: The -- the -- the gentleman yields back. Mr. Tiffany?

TIFFANY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Attorney General Barr, will you send a thank you to the law enforcement people that work for you for the work that they're doing here across the United States of America?

BARR: Sure.

TIFFANY: And I want to thank all of the law enforcement across our country. We are an imperfect country but law enforcement has done a -- they do a good job across our country and they should be recognized for that.

I'm going to ask you a question about Mr. Bernell Trammell from Milwaukee here in just a minute. He was the man who was shot to death at the end of last week. He's the African American man who was wearing a sign -- and he's regularly known around Milwaukee for carrying a Trump for President sign.

But I want to share with you what happened in Madison, Wisconsin so we all understand that this is not a myth about Antifa. So when the riots hit Minneapolis and then extended around the country, they hit Madison, Wisconsin also.

And I don't know if you've ever visited Madison, Wisconsin ...

BARR: Yes.

TIFFANY: ... there is an iconic street there called State Street. Starts at the capitol and runs all the way down to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and that street, if you go there now, 75 businesses are boarded up as a result of a mayor and city council who would not protect those people. Those people went to the city council last week and they asked for some assistance. The city council, who would not protect their business, they said "no, we're not going to provide you for assistance."