Washington DC, Jul 28 (efe-epa).- The United States’ attorney general on Tuesday endorsed President Donald Trump’s administration’s response to protests following the death of George Floyd, and defended the dispensation of justice in cases against presidential advisers Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.
“Since when is it okay to try to burn down a federal court?” William Barr said during his first hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, in which he also responded to questions about the government’s handling of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Barr was summoned by lawmakers to testify on actions taken by the government amid protests that have rocked the country in recent weeks after Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis.
The hearing, which lasted more than five hours, was marked by clashes between the attorney general and Democratic legislators, while his Republican colleagues described the protests as violent and blamed them on the far-left.
The protests, which have subsided in cities such as New York and Washington DC, continue in Portland, Oregon, where the government has deployed federal units to disperse them.
Trump has also threatened to increase federal presence in cities led by Democrats to tackle what he has described as an increase in crime and violence.
“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.
Responding to criticism about the deployment of federal law enforcement in cities such as Portland, Barr said that the administration is 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,” he added.
Barr called proposals to defund the police “grossly irresponsible.”
“The demonization of police is not only unfair and inconsistent with the principle that all people should be treated as individuals, but gravely injurious to our inner city communities,” he said.
In his opening remarks, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler criticized Barr and the government for the handling of pandemic and spreading disinformation about voter fraud, among other things.
Nadler said that under Barr’s leadership, “the department (of justice) has endangered Americans and violated their constitutional rights by flooding federal law enforcement into the streets of American cities, against the wishes of the state and local leaders of those cities, to forcefully and unconstitutionally suppress dissent.”
He added that “again and again” you (Barr) personally have interfered with ongoing criminal investigations to protect the president and his allies from the consequences of their actions” and “when career investigators and prosecutors resisted these brazen, unprecedented actions, you replaced them with less qualified staff who appear to be singularly beholden to you.”
“The message these actions send is clear: in this justice department, the president’s enemies will be punished and his friends will be protected, no matter the cost,” said the lawmaker, who accused Barr of “projecting fear and violence nationwide in pursuit of obvious political objectives.”
“The president wants footage for his campaign ads and you appear to be serving it up to him as ordered,” he added.
Among the most tense moments in the session were the exchanges that the attorney general had with lawmakers Pramila Jayapal and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.
Jayapal criticized the “discrepancy” in the response to the protests, illustrating how the federal government did not intervene during anti-lockdown demonstrations in states such as Michigan, led by Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, but against the racial injustice protests.
“When White men with swastikas storm a government building with guns, there is no need for the president to ‘activate’ you, because they’re getting the president’s personal agenda done,” she said.
“But when Black people and people of color protest police brutality, systemic racism, and the president’s very own lack of response to those critical issues, then you forcibly remove them with armed federal officers [and] pepper bombs because they are considered terrorists by the president,” she added in reference to when the police cleared a park in front of the White House of protesters.