When Attorney General William Barr testified before the House Judiciary Committee last Tuesday, Democrats’ rhetorical questions reinforced eight falsehoods previously peddled by left-wing media. Notwithstanding these attempts to prevent Barr from setting the record straight, the attorney general dismantled much of the fake news that has made headlines over the last two months.
Here are the highlights of the media myths congressional Democrats paraded for the public during the hearing.
Myth 1: Barr overruled prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone because of a Donald Trump tweet.
Several of Democrats’ attacks focused on President Trump associate Roger Stone. Democrat committee Chair Jerry Nadler accused Barr of personally interfering “with ongoing criminal investigations to protect the president and his allies from the consequences of their actions,” and then “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.” Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, drilled more specifically into the Stone case, misrepresenting the facts in the process.
“Isn’t it true that when prosecutors in the Roger Stone case filed a memo with the court recommending a sentence of seven to nine years in prison, a few hours later, President Trump tweeted that the sentence recommendation was quote, ‘a disgrace,’” Johnson began. Barr acknowledged that reality. Johnson then asked Barr whether, “several hours after that, you filed a pleading with the court stating that the sentence recommendation would be changed and that you would be asking for a lighter sentence for Roger Stone?”
Barr attempted to explain that Johnson was mispresenting the circumstances, but the Democrat cut Barr short to grandstand. “You’re expecting the American people to believe that you did not do what Trump wanted you to do when you changed that sentencing recommendation and lowered it for Roger Stone?” Johnson asked rhetorically.
However, when Republicans allowed him to explain the circumstances of the about-face, the attorney general exposed the ridiculous nature of the charge that he was cutting breaks for Stone. “Stone was prosecuted under me, and I said all along, I thought that was a righteous prosecution,” the attorney general explained. But “line prosecutors were trying to advocate for a sentence that was more than twice anyone else in a similar position had ever served, and this is a 67-year-old man, first-time offender, no violence,” Barr continued. “I wasn’t going to advocate that because that is not the rule of law.”
The attorney general also testified that he “never discussed our sentencing recommendation with anyone outside the Department of Justice.” Barr then laid out the timeline: On Monday, Barr explained, he had concluded that the Department of Justice (DOJ) “should not affirmatively advocate for seven to nine years,” but would leave the decision to the sentencing judge. However, that night, the prosecutors filed a sentencing memorandum that did not reflect Barr’s decision.
“That night I told people we had to fix it first thing in the morning. We did as soon as I got in,” Barr said. Only then did Barr learn about the president’s tweet. Barr explained that he then “hesitated because I knew that I would be attacked for doing it. People would argue that I did it because of the tweet, but I felt at the end of the day, I really had to go forward with our filing because it was the right thing to do.”
Barr did do the right thing: In sentencing Stone, the presiding judge stated she was concerned seven to nine years would be greater than necessary,” and that she “agree[d] with the defense and with the government’s second memorandum.”
Myth 2: Barr dropped the case against Flynn because he was Trump’s friend.
Democrats likewise pushed the narrative that Barr filed a motion to dismiss the criminal charge against former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn because of Flynn’s connection to the president. Barr countered this charge both generally and specifically.
“I agree the president’s friends don’t deserve special breaks, but they also don’t deserve to be treated more harshly than other people, and sometimes that’s a difficult decision to make, especially when you’re going to be castigated for it,” Barr told the Judiciary Committee. “But that is what the rule of law is, and that’s what fairness to the individual ultimately comes to, being willing to do what’s fair to the individual.”
Barr then stressed what Democrats ignore—that it was an independent U.S. attorney in St. Louis “who had 10 years in the FBI and 10 years in the Department of Justice as a career prosecutor, who “determined, based on documents that had not been provided to Flynn’s side and not been provided to the court that in fact there was no basis to investigate Flynn.”
Rather, Missouri-based U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen concluded “that the only purpose was to try to catch him in saying something that they could then say was a lie.” “Furthermore, it was clearly established by the documents that the FBI agents who interviewed him did not believe that he thought he was lying,” Barr added.
Knowing what we know now, Barr concluded, “We don’t think any of the U.S. attorneys in the department would have prosecuted this case.” And what “I’m trying to establish is that we will use the same standards for everybody before we indict anybody. This goes for both sides,” Barr stressed. He later added that “the true two standards of justice were really during the tail end of the Obama administration.”
Myth 3: Barr fired an acting U.S. attorney for investigating Trump associates.
Another line of attack focused on Barr’s firing of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. In June, Barr had decided to replace Berman as acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York until the permanent U.S. attorney could be confirmed. Barr had announced Berman would be “stepping down” because he intended Berman to remain in the DOJ. Yet after the announcement, Berman went public with a statement that he wasn’t going anywhere. Berman’s insubordination led to his immediate firing.
At the time, the media narrative ran that Barr had fired Berman because he was investigating Trump associates, and possibly even Trump. The House Judiciary Committee attempted to push that theory too, but Barr shot it down,” calling it “nonsense.” “Anyone familiar with the Department of Justice would say that removing a component head is not going to have any effect on any pending investigation,” Barr noted.
Myth 4: Barr punished Michael Cohen but rewarded Paul Manafort.
Democrats on the committee also attempted to paint the attorney general as showing favoritism to former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort while retaliating against former Trump-attorney turned Trump critic Michael Cohen. Rep. Eric Swalwell took the lead in pushing the myth that Barr had retaliated against Cohen.
“Did you know that as a condition of Cohen’s release from prison, the government intended to direct Cohen not to engage with the media and not to write a book?” Swalwell asked Barr. Barr said “no,” then attempted to explain that situation.
Cohen had been furloughed from prison, Barr explained, and the conditions of that home confinement were set, not by the Bureau of Prisons but “by the probation office, which is part of the U.S. Court System.” “And it was the U.S. Court System that had the requirements about not writing,” Barr explained.
Swalwell ignored Barr’s response, claiming this condition of release was retaliatory, even though Barr’s office had nothing to do with the condition. Swalwell also attempted to paint Cohen’s return to prison as retaliatory, but again, Barr countered it was the probation office that had determined Cohen was being “uncooperative.” At that point, the Bureau of Prisons determined Cohen was no longer eligible for home confinement. Barr would also later testify he “didn’t even know [of] the decision to send Cohen back to prison.”
Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) pivoted from Swalwell’s charge of retaliation against Cohen to an allegation that Barr favored Manafort by arranging his release from prison out of concern for the coronavirus.
“In March 26 and April 3rd, your department released guidelines, criteria, setting priorities by which people would be released early,” Garcia began. “By your own Department’s admission, Manafort did not meet that criteria. Since the start of this pandemic, we have repeatedly urged you to use your authority to protect vulnerable populations in prisons. Instead, you release the president’s former campaign manager.”
Barr had little chance to respond to the charge, with Garcia—like the rest of the Democrats on the committee—interrupting when he tried to correct the record. Yet, as she ended her tirade, Barr succinctly countered the claim: “The director of the BOP testified under oath: No one from Justice Department was involved” in the decision to release Manafort from prison.
Myths 5, 6: Barr used tear gas to clear out peaceful protestors for a photo op for Trump.
The myth that Trump and Barr are supposedly squashing peaceful protests throughout the country also held top billing at Tuesday’s hearing. One main line of this attack focused on the narrative that Barr had directed the removal of peaceful protestors, including with tear gas, from Lafayette Square in Washington, DC so Trump could walk to St. John’s Church for a photo op.
“On the first day of June, the world watched in horror on live television as federal agents deployed by the administration, and with you present and telling him to get it done, used force to clear Lafayette Park so that the president, with you and others at your side, could walk across the park and have a photo op in front of St. John’s church,” one committee member charged. Rep. Pramila Jayapal repeated this claim, saying Barr had directed “federal officers to close in on the protesters and to use shields offensively as weapons, tear gas, pepper balls, irritants, explosive devices, batons and horses to clear the area just so the president could get a photo op.”
While Democrats refused to allow Barr to respond to the charges, Republicans provided the attorney general a chance to detail the facts. “There was unprecedented rioting right around the White House,” Barr explained. “Very violent.”
“During that time about 90 officers were injured. In fact, the Secret Service was so concerned it recommended the president go down to the shelter,” Barr noted. “There was a breach of the Treasury Department, the lodge—an historical building on Lafayette Park—was burned down, and St. John’s Church was set on fire,” Barr added.
On Monday, Barr explained, “there was total consensus that we couldn’t allow that to happen so close to the White House, that kind of rioting,” and “therefore we had to move the perimeter out one block and push it up toward I Street.” This plan had nothing to do with the president’s decision to walk to St. John’s Church, Barr explained.
Barr also responded to another falsehood, noting that no tear gas had been used in moving the perimeter. Rather, tear gas was used to clear the way for a fire truck to put out the fire at St. John’s Church the previous evening.
To say the protest was peaceful was also not accurate: “It is a fact that the park police reported, and I saw myself projectiles being thrown from that crowd,” Barr explained, “so I did not consider them at all peaceful protesters.”
Myth 7: Portland is just a bunch of peaceful protestors.
Next, the Democrats turned to Portland, chastising Barr for sending federal “troops” to the Oregon city, with Rep. Zoe Lofgren blaming the federal response for the violence. “The governor of Oregon and the mayor of Portland has asked that the federal troops leave because the reaction has actually been in reverse proportion, people are showing up because the troops are there,” Lofgren said, confusing federal law enforcement officials with the military.
She then proceeded to paint the protests as mostly “nonviolent,” with a “wall of moms” leading the way. Nadler pushed this narrative too, claiming “the protestors aren’t mobs, they are mothers, and veterans, and mayors.”
“I think your characterization of Portland is completely false,” Barr responded, and then laid out the facts—which are much different than the myth narrated by the Democrats on the committee. “In Portland, we have a relatively small number of federal officers who have been withstanding, [the assault] for almost two months. It’s a great strain, but we cannot just stand aside and allow the federal court to be destroyed.”
Where “we don’t have the support of the local government, we have to take a stand and defend this federal property,” Barr explained. Further, without the deployment of federal law enforcement, the federal building in Portland would likely not be standing today, Barr told Republican Jim Jordan, as “there’ve been multiple attempts to set it afire.”
The attorney general also squashed the idea that defending the federal courthouse in Portland infringed on protestors’ free speech rights. “I have to say,” Barr told the committee, “I don’t understand why a small contingent of marshals inside the court poses a threat to anybody’s First Amendment rights.”
Then he obliterated the idea that these are peaceful protestors: “They set up a fence on federal property,” and when people are arrested “it’s because they’re trying to come into the fence.” “These aren’t peaceful protesters,” Barr made clear. “They bring power tools to cut through the wire and so forth to get in.”
For two months, the federal courthouse has been under daily attacks, “where people march to the court, try to gain entrance and have set fires, thrown things, used explosives and injured police, including, just this past weekend, perhaps permanently blinding three federal officers for with lasers,” Barr countered.
Then, in what should have shamed the majority party, Barr laid out the shocking reality that makes him “concerned for the country”: “this is the first time in my memory that the leaders of one of our great two political parties, the Democratic Party, are not coming out and condemning mob violence and the attack on federal courts.” “Why can’t we just say the violence against federal courts has to stop? Could we hear something like that?” the attorney general asked the committee.
Myth 8: The DOJ is sending federal agents to cities to bolster Trump’s re-election bid.
But no, instead, at Tuesday’s hearing, Chair Jerrold Nadler took the peaceful-Portland-protestors myth national, claiming “the president wants footage for his campaign ads, and you appear to be serving it up to him as ordered.”
“There are those who believe you are sending federal law enforcement into these cities, not to combat violent crime, but to help with the president’s reelection efforts,” the committee chair claimed, adding “the president has made clear that he wants conflict between protesters and police to be essential claim at the central theme of his campaign.”
“We are on the defense, we’re not out looking for trouble,” Barr countered. He also refused let Nadler get away with the sleight-of-hand that sought to conflate protesters and rioters. “Protesters are good. Demonstrations are good. They’re part of the First Amendment. What I’m condemning is people who commit crime,” Barr told the committee. And federal law enforcement officials are not targeting protesters, but those engaged in violence, such as those attacking the Portland federal courthouse.
Democrat Rep. Jayapal attempted to reframe the attack by suggesting Barr responds differently when the protesters support the president. When Michigan protesters swarmed the Michigan capital, carrying guns, “some with swastikas,” Barr did nothing, Jayapal claimed.
Even with his limited ability to get a word in during his exchange with Jayapal, Barr nonetheless exposed the two fallacies in her argument: First, the Michigan capitol is not a federal building. Second, unlike in Portland, the local officials were able to handle the situation.
While Democrats on the committee hit Barr with a scattershot of other criticisms, none of those complaints hit their target either. Instead, Barr batted away falsehood after falsehood, and all within a fraction of the speaking time the Democrats controlled via their “reclaim their time” ploy.