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Washington, D.C. July 28, 2020 – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during a Department of Justice oversight hearing with Attorney General William Barr:
“Thank you for being here, Mr. Barr. According to the Congressional Research Service, this is the first time you have appeared before the House Judiciary Committee—both during your first tenure as Attorney General thirty years ago, and during your current service in the Trump Administration. Welcome.
“150 years ago last month, in the aftermath of the Civil War, Congress created the Department of Justice. We did so with two missions in mind.
“First, we wanted to replace a system of party spoils with a core of professional government attorneys. Yes, these attorneys would be supervised by the Attorney General and, yes, the Attorney General would remain a political appointee—but at its heart, the Department would rely on a foundation of professionals dedicated to the impartial administration of the law and an unbiased justice system.
“Second, Congress established the Department of Justice to enforce the nation’s first civil rights laws. From that moment on, it became the Department’s responsibility to ensure the right to vote and stem the tide of systemic racism.
“Now, not every Attorney General in the intervening 150 years has given full expression to those two goals. I am certain that every Administration has fallen short of those promises, in some way, over time.
“But today, under your leadership, these two objectives are more at risk than at any time in modern history.
“Your tenure is marked by a persistent war against the Department’s professional core in an apparent effort to secure favors for the President.
“Others have lost sight of the importance of civil rights laws—but now we see the full force of the federal government brought to bear against citizens demonstrating for the advancement of their own civil rights. There is no precedent for the Department of Justice actively seeking out conflict with American citizens, under such flimsy pretext, or for such petty purposes.
“150 years later, we are again at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history, Mr. Barr.
“We are confronted with a global pandemic that has killed 150,000 Americans and infected more than 16 million worldwide.
“We are coming to grips with a civil rights struggle long swept under the rug, if not outright ignored by our government.
“We are, as a nation, witnessing the federal government turn violently on its own people.
“And although responsibility for the government’s failure to protect the health, safety, and constitutional rights of the American people belongs squarely to President Trump, he could not have done this alone.
“He needed help. And after he finished utterly humiliating his first Attorney General, he found you.
“In your time at the Department, you have aided and abetted the worst failings of this President. Let us recount just some of the decisions that have left us deeply concerned about the Department of Justice.
“First, under your leadership, the Department 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.
“Second, at your direction, Department officials have downplayed the effects of systemic racism and abandoned the victims of police brutality; refused to hold abusive police departments accountable for their actions; and expressed open hostility to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Third, in coordination with the White House, the Department has spread disinformation about voter fraud, failed to enforce voting rights laws, and attempted to change the census rules to flaunt the plain text of the Constitution—all in the apparent attempt to assist the President’s reelection.
“Fourth, at the President’s request, the Department has amplified the President’s conspiracy theories and shielded him from responsibility by blatantly misrepresenting the Mueller Report and failing to hold foreign actors accountable for their attacks on our elections—undermining both national security and the Department’s professional staff in the process.
“Fifth, again and again, you personally have interfered with ongoing criminal investigations to protect the President and his allies from the consequences of their actions.
“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.
“Finally, and perhaps most perniciously, the Department has placed the President’s political needs over the public health by challenging stay-at-home orders in the states hit hardest by the pandemic. The Department’s persistent efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act will make recovery that much harder.
“These actions come at a price: real damage to our democratic norms, the erosion of the separation of powers, and a loss of faith in the equal administration of justice.
“In the hands of President Trump, a Department of Justice that adopts a dangerously expansive view of executive power and demonstrates a willingness to shield him from accountability represents a direct threat to the country.
“And we were warned.
“At your confirmation hearing, Professor Neil Kinkopf testified: ‘Public confidence in the rule of law depends on there being an Attorney General who will not allow the President to do whatever he wants with the Justice Department. William Barr’s views of presidential power are so radically mistaken that he is simply the wrong man, at the wrong time, to be Attorney General of the United States.’
“Again, this failure of leadership comes at great cost.
“This Administration has twisted the Department of Justice into a shadow of its former self, capable of serving most Americans only after it has served those in power.
“This Committee has a responsibility to protect Americans from that kind of corruption, Mr. Barr. We have a responsibility to ensure that the Justice Department and its Attorney General administer justice equally and fairly.
“And this is what has brought us to this hearing room today. We want to give you a chance to respond to our questions to these and other matters—and we hope and expect that you will do so in a clear and forthright manner. “Our members expect sincere answers today, and our country deserves no less.”