Attorney General Bill Barr set to rail against ‘bogus’ Russia probe, ‘violent rioters’ in testimony before Congress

U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr listens during a roundtable discussion with law enforcement hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2020.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Attorney General William Barr is set Tuesday to testify before Congress that “violent rioters and anarchists” have “hijacked” the protests over George Floyd’s death “to wreak senseless havoc and destruction on innocent victims.”

Barr will also offer a full-throated defense of his much-criticized conduct in the federal probe of Russian election interference, slamming the “bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal” and asserting President Donald Trump has not acted inappropriately.

Barr is set to deliver the opening statement at 10 a.m. ET before the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee, marking his first-ever appearance before that panel during his tenure in the Trump administration and his first session before Congress in over a year.

The hearing comes more than a month after Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., threatened to subpoena Barr to testify following the firing of Geoffrey Berman as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Barr’s spokeswoman announced on June 24 the attorney general had accepted an invitation for a “general oversight hearing.”

But Barr’s opening statement, published Monday evening by multiple outlets, does not directly address Berman’s ouster. Rather, Barr accuses Democrats on the House panel of using the hearing to further their attempts “to discredit me by conjuring up a narrative that I am simply the President’s factotum who disposes of criminal cases according to his instructions.”

The opening statement says Trump “has not attempted to interfere” in criminal matters under Barr’s purview. “From my experience, the President has played a role properly and traditionally played by Presidents,” it says.

Barr’s statement focuses in large part on Floyd, a Black man whose death while unarmed at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis sparked a massive wave of protests across the U.S.

Floyd’s killing “understandably jarred the whole country and forced us to reflect on longstanding issues in our nation,” the statement says. “Given our history it is understandable that, among black Americans, there is at least some ambivalence, and often distrust, toward the police.”

But events like Floyd’s death are “fortunately quite rare” nowadays, Barr says in the statement. It goes on to warn that the “demonization” of police, and the “grossly irresponsible proposals” to defund them, are “gravely injurious to our inner city communities.”

Barr defends the deployment of federal law enforcement officers to cities like Portland, Oregon, where clashes between police and demonstrators have become increasingly violent.

“What unfolds nightly around the courthouse cannot reasonably be called a protest; it is, by any objective measure, an assault on the Government of the United States,” the statement says.

“To state what should be obvious, peaceful protesters do not throw explosives into federal courthouses, tear down plywood with crowbars, or launch fecal matter at federal officers. Such acts are in fact federal crimes under statutes enacted by this Congress.”

Barr’s statement admonishes all members of the House Judiciary Committee to “condemn violence against federal officers and destruction of federal property.”

“To tacitly condone destruction and anarchy is to abandon the basic rule-of-law principles that should unite us even in a politically divisive time,” it says.

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