Attorney General William Barr testifies in Congress

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 4:36 p.m. ET, July 28, 2020
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2:57 p.m. ET, July 28, 2020

Barr: Federal forces have a duty to defend courthouse in Portland 

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe and Steve Almasy

Matt McClain/Pool/Getty Images
Matt McClain/Pool/Getty Images

Attorney General William Barr defended the deployment of federal forces in Portland, saying the Department of Justice has an obligation to protect federal property.

“Federal courts are under attack. Since when is it okay to try to burn down a federal court?” Barr said. “The US Marshals have a duty to stop that and defend the courthouse and that's what we're doing in Portland. We are at the courthouse defending the courthouse. We're not out looking for trouble."

"Even where there are these kinds of riots occurring, we haven't had to put in the kind of reinforcement that we have in Portland because the state and local law enforcement does their job and won't allow rioters to come and just physically assault the courthouse. In Portland that's not the case," Barr said.

Some background: President Trump has said federal officers were sent to the city to protect federal property, but protesters and local leaders have strongly opposed their presence. Demonstrations, many of which have been peaceful, have been ongoing for more than 50 days.

Last Friday, a total of 18 people faced federal charges for their alleged roles during protests at the US Courthouse in Portland, according to the office of the US Attorney for the District of Oregon.

In a letter last week addressed to Barr and Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, more than a dozen mayors called the administration's intention to deploy federal forces against protesters an "abuse of power."

12:54 p.m. ET, July 28, 2020

Texas Democrat pushes Barr on ending racism in law enforcement

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

In a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee asked Attorney General William Barr if he knew about “the talk” between Black parents and their sons, referring to the discussion on how to behave in police confrontations.

“I think I do,” Barr said. 

“I don’t know if you do,” Jackson Lee responded. 

The congresswoman asked Barr if the Department of Justice is committed to ending systemic racism and racism in law enforcement across the US.

“I don’t agree there's systemic racism in the police department, generally in this country,” Barr said. 

Jackson Lee went on to question why the DOJ has not implemented pattern-or-practice investigations to address violence in law enforcement. “Why has your department only pursued one pattern-or-practice investigation since President Trump took office that could stop systemic racism?” she asked. 

“The response to this is, in fact, training of police, and I think the police believe that that's a response,” Barr said. 

Jackson Lee alleged that Barr was more focused on allies of Trump rather than addressing these cases. 

“Your focus was more to let out friends like Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, while Tamir Rice, whose case has not been taken up, was playing with a toy gun, was killed by police at the age of 12; Breonna Taylor was sleeping in her apartment when she was killed by police at age 26; and Rayshard Brooks, 27, was killed just for sleeping in his car in a Wendy's parking lot; and George Floyd, from Houston, Texas, known as ‘a humble man,’ was murdered in the streets of Minneapolis, crying ‘I can't breathe,’” she said. 

Watch more:

12:50 p.m. ET, July 28, 2020

Barr: President's friends "don't deserve to be treated more harshly than other people"

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Attorney General William Barr defended his involvement in the Roger Stone and Michael Flynn cases, saying he has aimed to "restore the rule of law" at the Department of Justice so "we have one rule for everybody."

"I'm supposedly punishing the President's enemies and helping his friends. What enemies have I indicted?" Barr asked the committee room. "You you say I helped the President's friends. The cases that are cited, the Stone case and the Flynn case are both cases where I determined that some intervention was necessary to rectify the rule of law, to make sure people are treated the same."

"I agree the President's friends don't deserve special breaks, but they also don't deserve to be treated more harshly than other people, and sometimes that's a difficult decision to make especially when you know you are going to be castigated for it. But that is what the rule of law is and that's what fairness to the individual ultimately comes to. Being willing to do what's fair to the individual," Barr continued.

Barr said he believed Stone should go to jail and thought the judge's sentence was correct, but added that line prosecutors were trying to advocate for a sentence that was "more than twice than anyone else in a similar position had ever served."

"And I was not going to advocate that because that is not the rule of law," Barr said.

Barr has been slammed by House Democrats for lessening the sentencing recommendation for Stone, Trump's longtime friend, and moving to dismiss charges against Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser.

Trump commuted Stone's prison sentence earlier this month.

12:17 p.m. ET, July 28, 2020

Barr pushes back on assertions he politicized the Justice Department to defend Trump

From CNN's David Shortell

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Attorney General William Barr pushed back on characterizations that he has politicized the Justice Department to defend President Trump, asking rhetorically, “Could you point to one indictment that has been under the department that you feel is unmerited?”

Addressing his involvement in the prosecutions of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, Barr said they were “both cases where I determined that some intervention was necessary to rectify the rule of law, to make sure people are treated the same.”

He raised his voice as he criticized line prosecutors who had attempted to seek a stiff prison sentence for Stone, reiterating that he felt Stone should go to jail, but not for an unfair amount of time. 

“I agree the President’s friends don’t deserve special breaks, but they also don’t deserve to be treated more harshly than other people and sometimes that’s a difficult decision to make, especially when you know you're going to be castigated for it,” Barr said.

11:57 a.m. ET, July 28, 2020

Committee's top Republican says Democrats targeted Barr over Russia probe

From CNN's David Shortell

In his opening statement, Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said Democrats were targeting Barr because he had been unafraid to characterize the Russia probe as "spying" on the President's campaign.

"He had the courage to do what no one else would do at the Justice Department," Jordan said, adding, "Chris Wray sure as heck isn't going to do it," a dig at the current FBI director.  


11:57 a.m. ET, July 28, 2020

Barr: Trump "has not attempted to interfere" in my decisions on criminal matters

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In his opening remarks, Attorney General William Barr defended his "independent judgment" and said President Trump "has not attempted to interfere" in the criminal decisions he's made. Barr said he feels he has "complete freedom" to do "what is right"

"As I said in my confirmation hearing, the attorney general has a unique obligation. He holds and entrusts the fair administration of the administration of justice. He must ensure that there is one standard of justice that applies to everyone equally and that criminal cases are handled even handedly based on the law and the facts and without regard to political or personal considerations, and I can tell you that I have handled criminal matters that have come to me for decision in this way," Barr said.

"The President has not attempted to interfere in these decisions. On the contrary, he has told me from the start that he expects me to exercise my independent judgment, to make whatever call I think is right, and that's precisely what I've done," Barr continued.

Barr has come under fire for lessening the sentencing recommendation for Trump's longtime friend Roger Stone and moving to dismiss charges against Trump's first national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Hear his full opening remarks:

11:56 a.m. ET, July 28, 2020

Barr: "Anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests" following George Floyd's death

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Attorney General William Barr's opening statement before the House Judiciary Committee hit on a number of Justice Department-related issues, but a large portion was devoted to issues of race and policing.

In his opening remarks, Barr struck a tone that was decidedly defensive of law enforcement.

Barr called the killing of George Floyd "horrible" and said it "understandably jarred" the nation. Floyd's death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer has sparked nationwide anti-racist protests and many calls to defund police departments.

However, Barr claimed "violent rioters" have "hijacked" peaceful protests.

"In the wake of George Floyd's death violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests to wreak senseless havoc and destruction on innocent victims," Barr said.

Barr calls the far-left movement to defund the police "grossly irresponsible."

"The demonization of the police is not only unfair and inconsistent with principles of all people should be treated as individuals, but gravely injurious to the inner city communities," he said.

11:56 a.m. ET, July 28, 2020

The committee's top Republican played a lengthy video as part of his opening statement

Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Pool/AP
Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Pool/AP

As part of his opening statement, top House Judiciary Republican Jim Jordan showed a lengthy video depicting protesters clashing with police officers.

Following the video, Committee Chair Jerry Nadler noted that Republicans did not give the committee the required 48-hour notice for video elements.

"I hope that Mr. Jordan never complains about the length of my opening statement," Nadler said. "I am going to insert the committee's audio-visual policy into the record of this hearing and note that the minority did not give the committee the 48 hour notice required by that policy."

The lengthy video started with clips of television news reporters describing "peaceful protesters." It was followed by scenes of protesters and police clashing.

While numerous anti-racist protests broke out after the killing of George Floyd, it's not clear where or when the videos in the GOP montage were taken.

12:56 p.m. ET, July 28, 2020

Nadler accuses Barr of risking DOJ missions in "attempt to secure favors for the President"

In his opening remarks, House Judiciary Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler said Attorney General William Barr has failed to uphold central missions of the agency, including being an impartial administrator of the law and enforcing civil rights laws.

"Your tenure has been marked by a persistent war against the department's professional core in an apparent attempt to secure favors for the President," Nadler said. "Others have lost sight of the importance of civil rights laws, but now we see the full force of the federal government brought to bear against citizens demonstrating for the advancement of their own civil rights."

"There is no precedent for the Department of Justice to actively seek out conflict with American citizens under such flimsy pretext or for such petty purposes," Nadler continued.

Nadler added that Barr has "aided and abetted the worst failings of the President."

"In the hands of President Trump, a Department of Justice that adopts a dangerously expansive view of executive power and demonstrates a willingness to shield him from accountability, represents a direct threat to the liberty and safety of the country," Nadler said.

Leading up to today's hearing, Nadler has been investigating several of Barr's actions and had threatened to subpoena the attorney general before they agreed on Tuesday's appearance.

Last month, after Trump had Barr fire the US attorney in Manhattan who had been overseeing an investigation into the President's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Nadler suggested that his committee might attempt to impeach Barr, though he also called pursuing it a "waste of time" and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tamped down talk of impeachment.

"Barr's priorities are clear: Trump first, America second," Nadler said earlier this month. "There is one rule for the President and one rule for the rest of us. Barr is corrupting DOJ at all costs to protect the President and subvert the election."

Hear his remarks: