House Democrats are launching an all-out offensive against Attorney General William Barr for his “continued defiance of Congress” and “improper politicization of the Department of Justice,” the Judiciary Committee announced in a release on Tuesday.
The panel’s announcement comes as the Trump administration confirmed the attorney general personally ordered law enforcement to expand the perimeter around the White House either late Sunday or early Monday, ahead of Donald Trump’s walk to a photo op at nearby St John’s Episcopal Church.
Administration officials have insisted that Mr Barr’s order to expand the perimeter had no connection to Mr Trump’s photo op, where he strolled from the White House across Lafayette Square to the church and held up a bible in his right hand as photojournalists snapped pictures and TV crews shot video.
Shortly before Mr Trump emerged from the White House for his walk to the church on Tuesday, horse-mounted law enforcement personnel used tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash-bang grenades to disperse a crowd that had been peacefully protesting there for hours.
Mr Barr has also continued to deploy more law enforcement personnel across the country to root out violent agitators at protests against police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died last week as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck and back for several minutes even as Mr Floyd was saying he couldn’t breathe.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, whose committee drafted and ratified impeachment articles against Mr Trump last year, is proposing legislation to slash the budget of Mr Barr’s personal office at the DOJ by $50m, he announced on Tuesday.
Mr Nadler is also scheduling multiple hearings in the coming weeks with DOJ whistle-blowers and former department officials, the panel announced.
“These individuals are prepared to describe specific incidents of misconduct, as well as the unprecedented politicization of the Department of Justice under President Trump and Attorney General Barr,” the committee wrote in its press release.
Mr Nadler and other Democrats on the Judiciary panel will also wade into the DOJ’s high-profile criminal case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, which Mr Barr attempted to drop last month. Mr Nadler will file an amicus brief in the case arguing against Mr Flynn’s acquittal on charges that he lied to the FBI about his contacts with former Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
“The Flynn case is one of many cases in which Attorney General Barr has improperly interfered for the benefit of President Trump and his political allies,” the Judiciary panel release stated.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department could not immediately be reached for comment for this story.
Mr Barr, whom Democrats see as emblematic of a Trump cabinet full of sycophants unduly insulating the president from the consequences of illegal actions, has had a frosty relationship with the Democratic-controlled House since he was confirmed to the office in February 2019.
The attorney general has defied multiple subpoenas from House Democrats, citing executive privilege. The stonewalling has erected obstacles to several House committees’ investigations into the president and his inner circle, the House impeachment investigation.
Last year, Mr Barr tasked US Attorney John Durham with reviewing the origins of the FBI’s 2016 counterintelligence probe into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Mr Trump and many congressional Republicans have argued that Obama-era intelligence officials — and even the former president himself — illegally targeted Mr Trump with investigations throughout 2016 and into 2017. Claims of political malfeasance by Obama administration officials — which Mr Trump has dubbed “Obamagate” and made central to his 2020 re-election bid — have not been independently substantiated.
Mr Barr on Monday declined an invitation from the committee to testify on 9 June, citing a 29 May guidance memo from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows barring cabinet-level officials from appearing before Congress for the time being.
The attorney general had previously agreed to appear for questioning by the committee on 31 March before that hearing was cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, he wrote to Mr Nadler.
Mr Nadler made clear on Tuesday that his publicity campaign to counter Mr Barr’s tenure at the DOJ was a last-resort way to try to hold the attorney general accountable for politically “corrupting” US law enforcement and showing “contempt for Congress.”
“I am not going to spend months litigating a subpoena with an Attorney General who has already spent years resisting the courts and legitimate congressional oversight — but neither will we stand by and allow Mr. Barr to continue to corrupt the Department,” Mr Nadler said in a statement on Tuesday.
“We do not take these actions lightly or with any sense of joy. We have both a duty and a moral obligation to protect the rule of law in our country, and we intend to do just that,” he said.
As protests in the nation’s capital over Mr Floyd’s death continued on Tuesday, Mr Barr announced he will be sending "even greater law enforcement resources" to root out violent pockets and stem the vandalism and looting that has gripped parts of the city.
At least 12 agencies under Mr Barr’s jurisdiction — the FBI, the US Park Police, and others — have deployed to Washington in recent days amid the protests.
"The most basic function of government is to provide security for people to live their lives and exercise their rights, and we will meet that responsibility here in the nation’s capital," Mr Barr said in a statement on Tuesday.