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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4:36 p.m. ET, July 28, 2020

The hearing has wrapped. Here are some key moments from Barr's showdown with House Democrats. 

From CNN's David Shortell and Jeremy Herb

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

For more than four hours, House Democrats clashed with Attorney General William Barr in a contentious hearing where they argued over the Justice Department's deployment of federal officers into cities, Barr's involvement in the prosecution of two allies of President Trump and a number of other issues.

In case you missed it, here are some key moments from the hearing:

  • Barr defended his "independent judgment:" In his opening remarks, House Judiciary Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler said Barr has failed to uphold central missions of the Department of Justice, including being an impartial administrator of the law. Barr dismissed these accusations in the hearing, saying 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."
  • Barr pushed back on characterizations that he has politicized the DOJ: 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," Barr said.
  • Barr claims federal forces have a duty to defend Portland courthouse: Nadler grilled Barr on whether the deployment of federal troops to cities were being used as "props" for Trump's reelection. Barr dismissed these allegations during the hearing and said federal officers had been sent to protect federal buildings "under attack" in Portland and to combat violent crime.
  • "Shame on you," Nadler reprimands Barr for handling of protests: Nadler slammed Barr for how he has handled protests in DC, Portland and other cities, telling the attorney general that "real leadership would entail de-escalation, collaboration and looking for ways to peacefully resolve our differences." Instead, Nadler alleged Barr has used "pepper spray and truncheons on American citizens." The committee chair added that Barr is "projecting fear and violence nationwide in pursuit of obvious political objectives." In one portion of the questioning, Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat from Florida, showed a video she said displayed a crackdown of protests in Venezuela and asked Barr how he could restore the confidence of her constituents in US values when they are seeing images of “violence used against the peaceful protesters” in the US. Barr reiterated that "force is being deployed against rioters or in situations where protesters are not following police directions."
  • Texas Democrat pushes Barr on ending racism in law enforcement: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee pressed Barr on whether the Trump administration was fighting systemic racism in policing. The attorney general said he disagreed there was systemic racism in police departments. “I don’t agree there's systemic racism in the police department, generally in this country,” Barr said. 

You can read Barr's prepared opening statement here.

3:50 p.m. ET, July 28, 2020

Democrat says Barr's opening statement did not show "sympathy and understanding that Black lives matter"

From CNN's Ian Sloan

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, had harsh words for Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday and continued to defend peaceful protests around the country in response to police brutality.

Lee told reporters outside the hearing room that “we cannot ignore the protesters desire to reimagine and cannot ignore that they have a factual basis for the disparities and treatment of people of color.”

The Texas Democrat pushed back on a video shared by GOP Rep. Jim Jordan during the hearing, which showed footage of riots and other scenes of violence across the country.

She said “no one on that committee attunes to violence, but Black lives matter, and what was not evidenced in the general's statement, his opening statement was his sympathy and understanding that Black lives matter...” 

“What was not shown is the evidence of those protesters that succumbed to the violation of their civil liberties and violence, through unnamed federal officers dispatched by the Department of Justice attributable to no one,” Lee said of the Trump administration’s use of federal troops to quell protests. 

Lee reiterated her stance that Barr and the Justice Department have “no concern for Black lives in the relationship of improving conditions with respect to the community and people of color, and particularly police misconduct.”

“The parents of Tamir Rice, the loved ones of Breonna Taylor, the loved ones of George Floyd, are all wondering if their government will stand for them,” Lee said. “Not against all security and safety, but against bad policing.”

2:40 p.m. ET, July 28, 2020

Hearing reconvenes after short break

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

The hearing is back after a short recess. Attorney General William Barr is testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in a hearing titled "Oversight of the Department of Justice."

It is the first time Barr appears before this Democratic-led panel. He is the hearing's only witness.

Committee members have one round of 5-minute questioning.

2:19 p.m. ET, July 28, 2020

The hearing is in a short recess

Attorney General William Barr has been testifying before the House Judiciary Committee for close to three hours. Democrats have grilled him on multiple topics, including the deployment of federal forces in Portland and his handling of the Roger Stone and Michael Flynn cases. 

The hearing is now having a quick recess.

House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler opened the committee's hearing slamming Barr for allegedly putting two central goals of the Justice Department — the impartial administration of law and the protection of civil rights — at greater risk than any other attorney general in the history of the country.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have defended the DOJ's use of force and Barr's actions related to the Russia investigation.

You can read Barr's prepared opening statement here.

2:56 p.m. ET, July 28, 2020

Barr: "Extremely dangerous" to defund the police 

From CNN's Emma Reynolds

Attorney General William Barr said defunding the police is “extremely dangerous” and stressed law enforcement agencies actually need more resources to address the concerns raised by protesters in Minneapolis. 

“I'm more concerned that the police be adequately funded today and get more resources. A lot of the things we need to do to address some of the concerns people have about what they saw in Minneapolis are going to take some resources. Some of the training that we have to do,” Barr said.

Barr said there are 18,000 law enforcement agencies, and most of them are “very, very small.” 

"We have to find a way of training — making sure the training is pushed out," Barr said.

Some background: "Defund the police!" has become a common chant of US activists protesting the death of George Floyd. The calls have multiplied as other instances of police violence against African Americans have come to light. The meaning of the term can depend on who you ask.

Some activist groups want entire police departments dismantled because of what they perceive as institutional racism, and the creation of an entirely different model of community-led public safety.

Others say it's about shifting funds from law enforcement to community-based alternatives.

1:37 p.m. ET, July 28, 2020

Barr says attacks on federal buildings would spread if law enforcement abandons Portland courthouse

From CNN's David Shortell, Josh Campbell and Devan Cole

Attorney General William Barr said that violent riots targeting federal buildings would spread across the country if law enforcement abandoned their defense of a courthouse in Portland that has been attacked nightly in the city.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that it would spread,” Barr said.

He continued: “We are concerned about this problem metastasizing around the country. And so we feel that we have to, in a place like Portland where we don’t have the support of the local government, we have to take a stand and defend this federal property. We can’t get to a level where were going to accept these kinds of violent attacks on federal courts.”

More on this: The administration is planning to keep federal agents in Portland through at least mid-October, according to an internal email obtained by CNN.

The email shows Customs and Border Protection offices being asked for teams of about 20 to 25 personnel. Specifically, the agency is looking for agents of a special unit that has received tactical training and can be called upon to deploy immediately when needed. The email also calls for agents from another Border Patrol unit that provides search and rescue response and intelligence personnel.

For several nights, the largely peaceful protests in the city have turned violent as a small subset of rioters have set fires and launched fireworks at the city's downtown federal courthouse. The issue has led local Portland city officials and members of the Trump administration to engage in a public war of words over who is to blame for the actions of rioters.

2:41 p.m. ET, July 28, 2020

Barr says he never discussed Stone’s case with prosecutor he assigned to DC US attorney’s office

From CNN's David Shortell

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

Attorney General William Barr said that he never discussed the Roger Stone case with Tim Shea before assigning Shea to take over the DC US attorney’s office, which was overseeing the prosecution. 

Barr also said he didn’t recall discussing the case with Jessie Liu, Shea’s predecessor. 

Barr said the first time he had substantive involvement in the Stone case was when Shea came to the Justice Department's headquarters to discuss the internal debate over the sentencing recommendation —hours before career prosecutors would make a court filing that Barr disagreed with.

Earlier in the hearing: Barr defended his involvement in the Roger Stone case saying he "determined that some intervention was necessary to rectify the rule of law, to make sure people are treated the same.”

Barr has been slammed by House Democrats for lessening the sentencing recommendation for Stone. Trump commuted Stone's prison sentence earlier this month.

1:30 p.m. ET, July 28, 2020

Barr and Rep. Johnson share tense moment while discussing Roger Stone case

From CNN's David Shortell

The hearing grew tense Tuesday as Rep. Hank Johnson repeatedly refused to let Attorney General William Barr respond as the Democrat recounted the Roger Stone case. 

“I know your story but I’m asking my question,” Johnson said as Barr tried to get a word in.

“I’m telling my story — that’s what I’m here to do,” Barr fired back.

Later, Barr maintained that he had not discussed his decision to publicly disavow an initial sentencing recommendation made by career prosecutors in Stone's case with the White House. 

The two men continued to speak over each other, at times in raised voices, with Johnson accusing Barr of “carrying out Trump’s will.”

“Let me ask you,” Barr shouted back at one point. “Do you think it is fair for a 67-year-old man to be sent to prison for seven to nine years?”

Some background: In February, all four federal prosecutors who took the case against Stone to trial withdrew after top Justice Department officials undercut them and disavowed the government's recommended sentence against Stone.

See the exchange:

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."