WASH­ING­TON — At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr de­fended the ag­gres­sive fed­eral law en­force­ment re­sponse to civil un­rest in Amer­ica as he tes­ti­fied for the first time be­fore the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, push­ing back against an­gry, skep­ti­cal Democrats who said Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally sup­press­ing dis­sent.

The hear­ing, held Tues­day as the late civil rights icon John Lewis lay in state steps away out­side the Capi­tol, high­lighted the wide elec­tion-year gulf be­tween the two par­ties on po­lice bru­tal­ity and sys­temic racism in law en­force­ment. Mas­sive protests have sparked un­rest across the na­tion fol­low­ing the death of Ge­orge Floyd at the hands of Min­neapo­lis po­lice, and calls for po­lice re­form are grow­ing louder.

But Barr said “vi­o­lent riot­ers and an­ar­chists have hi­jacked le­git­i­mate protests” and ar­gued the vi­o­lence tak­ing place in Port­land, Ore­gon, and other cities is dis­con­nected from Floyd’s killing, which he called a “hor­ri­ble” event that prompted a nec­es­sary na­tional reck­on­ing on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Black com­mu­nity and law en­force­ment. But he also said there was no sys­temic racism in law en­force­ment.

“Largely ab­sent from these scenes of destruc­tion are even su­per­fi­cial at­tempts by the riot­ers to con­nect their ac­tions to Ge­orge Floyd’s death or any le­git­i­mate call for re­form,” Barr said of the Port­land protests.

The hear­ing marks Barr’s first ap­pear­ance be­fore the com­mit­tee after 18 months in of­fice, bring­ing him face-to-face with the panel that voted last year to hold him in con­tempt and is holding hear­ings on what Democrats say is politi­ciza­tion of the Jus­tice Depart­ment un­der his watch. But lit­tle new ground was un­cov­ered; fum­ing Democrats of­ten used their five min­utes to lay out their frus­tra­tions and cut Barr off as he at­tempted to an­swer ques­tions.

The top Repub­li­can on the panel, Ohio Rep. Jim Jor­dan, used his open­ing state­ment to show an eight-minute video that spliced to­gether im­ages of vi­o­lence by pro­test­ers around the coun­try.

Democrats re­torted with a video of their own of more peace­ful pro­test­ers, shown by Rhode Is­land Rep. David Ci­cilline.

“We fought for democ­racy, for the right to speak freely and you are at­tempt­ing to take that away,” Ci­cilline told Barr. “What’s worse, you’re do­ing it for the sole pur­pose of fur­ther­ing the pres­i­dent’s po­lit­i­cal agenda and gen­er­at­ing footage for Trump cam­paign com­mer­cials.”


U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr watches a Repub­li­can video show­ing peo­ple ri­ot­ing dur­ing a House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing on Tues­day in Wash­ing­ton.

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