Attorney General William Barr, in an exclusive interview on CNN, broadly defended the actions of police, saying shootings of Black Americans often weren’t racially motivated and weren’t as common as public demonstrations have made them seem.
“I don’t think there are two justice systems,” Barr said in a sometimes contentious interview on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” “I think the narrative that the police are in some epidemic of shooting unarmed black men is simply a false narrative and also the narrative that’s based on race.”
Barr acknowledged, however, that at times it created different situations for Black and White Americans.
“I think there are some situations where statistics would suggest that they are treated differently. But I don’t think that that’s necessarily racism,” Barr said.
“Didn’t Jesse Jackson say that when he looks behind him and he sees a group of young Black males walking behind him, he’s more scared than when he sees a group of White youths walking behind him,” Barr added. “Does that make him a racist?”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. said later Wednesday that Barr had taken his comments out of context.
Jackson told CNN that back in the 1990s his family lived in a “drug-infested neighborhood,” where “a family member’s son was killed right in front of my house, killed right in front of my wife, a drug thing.”
Jackson said that he had been talking about “the young man” who killed his relative. “If he comes behind me, I would be afraid,” Jackson said.
“Now what Mr. Barr said is the opposite about what I meant about crime,” he said. “Those shot in Wisconsin, the killings in Ferguson and the killing in Atlanta, Breonna (Taylor) and George Floyd, all of those were police killings that had nothing to do with who was coming down the street.”
“I would love to have a conversation with William Barr,” Jackson added.
Antifa and Trump’s claims of ‘thugs’ on airplanes
Barr also addressed President Donald Trump’s assertion of “thugs” intimidating a passenger on a plane, when asked about Antifa, a left-wing group the Justice Department has claimed stirs protests toward violence.
He said authorities were tracking people who had flown from city to city to stir up violence, but did not give examples and said he didn’t know specifically what Trump was describing.
“They are flying around the country, we know people who are flying around the country, we know where they’re going, we see some of the purchases they’re making before the riots of weapons to use in those riots,” Barr said.
Regarding Trump’s comments about a specific instance of black-clad Antifa members on a plane, Barr said, “I don’t know what the President is referring to.”
Barr said that some of the 300 people who have been hit with federal charges stemming from the nationwide arrest this summer belong to the Antifa movement, although he again did not provide specifics.
Barr and Trump have regularly blamed much of the violence on the left-wing anarchist movement, and Barr has created a task force to study the group’s infrastructure, but prosecutors haven’t specifically tied charges to the movement.
Barr also described how followers of the Antifa movement are working in an organized manner.
“I’ve talked to every police chief in every city where there’s been major violence and they all have identified Antifa as the ramrod for the violence,” Barr said.
Obama and Biden not under investigation
In the wide-ranging interview, Barr also said that neither former President Barack Obama nor former Vice President Joe Biden were under investigation.
Asked whether it was appropriate for Trump to be asking the attorney general to launch criminal investigation against his political opponents, Barr replied, “I didn’t take that as launching a criminal investigation. We’re reviewing the Russiagate thing, and I think he’s interested in the results of it.”
Barr refused to answer whether he wanted to stay on as attorney general should Trump get re-elected. But when asked whether he was enjoying the role, Barr replied with a laugh, “I wouldn’t use the word ‘enjoy,’ but it’s satisfying.”
Barr has been near the center of a political storm around civil unrest, especially in Wisconsin and Oregon, in recent weeks where civil rights protests over police killings of Black Americans have at times turned violent.
It’s also nearly 60 days until the 2020 election, and Trump has publicly and repeatedly leaned on his attorney general, one of his most trusted Cabinet members, to prosecute former officials he dislikes and give leniency toward his allies. Barr has for months touted an investigation he commissioned to re-examine investigators’ work in the early days of the Russia probe, an effort Barr’s critics have alleged is driven by a political attempt to help the President during his reelection bid.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct Barr’s reference to Jesse Jackson.
It has also been updated with comments from Jackson.