The start of the hearing was delayed Tuesday morning after House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler was involved in a car accident that did not involve another vehicle on his way to Washington, a spokesman said. Nadler, who was not driving, was not hurt, the spokesman said, but the start of the hearing was delayed until after 11 a.m. ET as a result.
They have a long list of grievances they plan to press Barr on beyond that, from his initial characterization of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report to the Justice Department’s use of force against protestors to Barr’s threats to state and local officials over their handling of Covid-19. A Democratic committee counsel told reporters Monday that Democratic lawmakers will seek to paint Barr as repeatedly overruling career staff to serve the President’s interests first.
“Ever since I made it clear that I was going to do everything I could to get to the bottom of the grave abuses involved in the bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal, many of the Democrats on this Committee have attempted 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. Judging from the letter inviting me to this hearing, that appears to be your agenda today,” Barr says in his written remarks.
“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.”
Pelosi said in an MSNBC interview on Monday that Barr was “there to protect Donald Trump. He’s not there as the attorney general of the people of the United States.”
“The thing that scares them about Bill Barr is this investigation he’s tasked John Durham to complete. … They’re afraid of what that might show,” Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the committee’s top Republican, said in a Fox News interview earlier this month. “Now they have the audacity to criticize Bill Barr, who’s trying to clean all this up and get to the bottom of it — it’s completely ridiculous.”
Barr has never appeared before the House Judiciary Committee — either while attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration or since his February 2019 Senate confirmation. He last appeared on Capitol Hill before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2019, when he defended his decision-making in the rollout of the special counsel report, which Democrats charge skewed Mueller’s findings. More than one year removed, the Mueller saga will be just one topic for Tuesday’s hearing, as Democrats move to probe a host of new scandals in the attorney general’s orbit.
In February, Barr clawed back a sentencing recommendation that career prosecutors in Washington, DC, had requested for Roger Stone, the longtime friend of Trump convicted by a jury of charges including lying to Congress and witness tampering, arguing it was too stiff. In May, the Justice Department said it would drop the charges against Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser whose guilty plea had been secured by Mueller’s team, after an internal review initiated by Barr turned up evidence the attorney general said showed the investigators had built an improper case.
Barr said in his opening statement that “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.”
Barr calls the killing of Floyd “horrible” and says it “understandably jarred the whole country and forced us to reflect on longstanding issues in our nation.” He continues, however, by recounting the ways that policing in America has changed since “the Civil Rights movement finally succeeded in tearing down the Jim Crow edifice.”
He acknowledges that the Black community feels they are treated unfairly by police and calls the concern “legitimate,” but he rejects the idea of “deep-seated racism” within police departments.
Several other issues could also be raised, like the Justice Department’s involvement in the handling of last year’s Ukraine whistleblower complaint, the surge of federal law enforcement officers to cities like Chicago experiencing a spike in violent crime, Barr’s comments on mail-in voting and voting rights and his April statement that the Justice Department might take action against states or cities that issue “overbearing” orders to respond to the spread of coronavirus.
Nadler, meanwhile, has held hearings on the politicization of the Justice Department and brought in high-profile witnesses.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.