Barr testifies Portland protests have been 'hijacked,' defends federal response

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday testified to Congress about the protests following George Floyd’s death and denounced violence that has emerged across the country.

In his opening statement before the House Judiciary Committee hearing, Barr said that Floyd’s death at the hands of police in May “understandably jarred the whole country and forced us to reflect on longstanding issues in our nation.”

And while it was a “shocking event,” Barr said, “The fact is that these events are fortunately quite rare.”

“According to statistics compiled by the Washington Post, the number of unarmed black men killed by police so far this year is eight. The number of unarmed white men killed by police over the same time period is 11,” he testified.

Barr added, “The threat to black lives posed by crime on the streets is massively greater than any threat posed by police misconduct. The leading cause of death for young black males is homicide.”

The hearing was set to begin at 10 a.m. ET, but was delayed by an hour because Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., was involved in a car accident on his way to Washington from New York. A spokesman for Nadler said nobody was hurt.

Nadler said in his opening statement that Barr has “aided and abetted the worst failings of this president,” adding, “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.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, defended Barr and said Democrats are attacking him because of “[s]pying. That one word, that’s why they are after you.”

Jordan then played a mash-up of video clips of violence across the country, which omitted images of federal law enforcement officers and members of the military taking aggressive action against protesters.

Barr said in his prepared statement, which he summarized for the committee, that the decision to deploy federal agents to several cities across the country where demonstrations are taking place “has nothing to do with the problem of violent mob rioting” and instead is “designed to help state and local law enforcement to meet their basic responsibility to solve crimes and keep their communities safe.”

The attorney general then specifically addressed the situation in Portland, saying, “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. The current situation in Portland is a telling example.”

In his remarks, Barr discussed the Russia investigation, which he described in his prepared statement as a “bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal” that involved “grave abuses.”

The attorney general also said that the president has not interfered in any decisions and that all matters have been left to Barr’s “independent judgment.”

Michael Kosnar and Garrett Haake contributed.