The House Judiciary Committee’s hearing Tuesday with Attorney General William Barr descended into chaos and blatant partisanship, with Democrats attacking and Republicans defending the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer.
The hearing started late due to a car accident involving Committee chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NJ). That provided an inauspicious start to the proceedings.
Nadler was not successful in his previous time in the national spotlight during the impeachment hearings concerning Ukraine. He was replaced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a short time into the hearings.
Nadler was unable to maintain any sense of decorum during the five-hour questioning of Barr. A series of Democratic representatives failed to give Barr time to respond to their questions, frequently talking over the Attorney General’s answers. Barr finally lost his patience with Democrats, saying, ““I’m going to answer the damn question,” according to the New York Times.
Ohio Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) showed an eight-minute video at the beginning of the hearing showing violent protesters assaulting law enforcement officers from footage drawn from around the country reporter wane.com. This gave a theatrical bent to the hearing that never disappeared.
There was debate about how Barr’s Justice Department dealt with allies of President Donald Trump. Democrats accused Barr of intervening in the cases of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn for political reasons. Barr defended his handling of those cases by saying, “”I agree the president’s friends don’t deserve special breaks, but they also don’t deserve to be treated more harshly.” Democrats also made accusations that Barr was targeting the president’s enemies, according to USA Today. Barr responded by asking, “What enemies have I indicted?”
The grandstanding continued when Barr was asked by Democratic Rep Debbie Murcasel-Powell if he would withhold the upcoming report by U.S. Attorney John Durham concerning the questionable origins of the Russia collusion investigation until after the November presidential election. Barr indicated that he would not.
Barr had strong words for the Democrats on the committee concerning their lack of condemnation of the violence around the country in the wake of protests after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. “This is the first time in my memory that the leaders of one of our two great political parties, the Democratic Party, are not coming out and condemning mob violence,” he said. “Can’t we just say the violence against the federal courts has to stop? Could we hear something like that?” No Democrats answered his question.
Barr at one point returned to what should have been the focus of the hearing – Floyd’s death, the protests that followed it, and the issue of police abuses against blacks. Barr said that the death of Floyd and other black men at the hands of police officers, “strike a deep chord in the black community because they are perceived as manifestation of the deeper, lingering concern that, in encounters with police, Blacks will not be treated even-handedly; they will not be given the benefit of the doubt; they will be treated with greater suspicion than a white person would be in the same circumstances. I think these concerns are legitimate.”
Barr tried to highlight the complexities inherent in the whole issue of systemic racism in law enforcement in America. “I think it would be an oversimplification to treat the problem as rooted in some deep-seated racism generally infecting our police departments,” Barr said. “It seems far more likely that the problem stems from a complex mix of factors, which can be addressed with focused attention over time.” Barr’s observation deserved to be investigated, but the chaotic and partisan Tuesday hearing did not allow for such subtleties.