Barr listening to and the triumph of small folks in an period of nice occasions
Below is my column on the recent House Justice Committee hearing with Attorney General William Barr. The hearing was largely ridiculed after Barr was repeatedly prevented from answering questions. It was a big disappointment. I have just testified about the controversy surrounding Lafayette Park and many of us have been waiting a month to hear from Barr directly about the details, especially from media reports that the park area has been cleared so President Trump can take a photo can do the Johanneskirche. Democratic members continued to refer to this as a fact (like many in the media), even though the federal authorities provided information that indicated that the plan had been approved days before and the order was issued without knowing the photo op. On repeated occasions when Barr tried to provide times and dates, Democratic members immediately "took time back" and even got angry when he tried to answer. The same applies to other controversies. We missed the opportunity to actually answer these questions. After repeatedly preventing Barr from responding, spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi called him a "blob" at the hearing. He could look less blob if the Democrats would allow him to speak. Instead, the hearing was an example of how Congress will work tirelessly to find no answers if a narrative is too good to review.
Here is the column:
Winston Churchill said: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." If he had known members of the House Justice Committee, he could have cut that time in half, as they could convince people that democracy is a failed experiment.
The hearing with the Attorney General William Barr For weeks there was a long wait for answers to questions ranging from the controversial eviction of Lafayette Park, to intervention in the case of Roger Stone, to violence in various cities. Instead, the public watched both parties do primal stride therapy for hours, largely forcing Barr to remain as still as a life-size anatomical doll.
The videos shown by the rival parties captured the utter absurdity of the day. The Republicans played what could only be described as eight minutes of virtual "revolt porn" for the hard right. In the end you would think that much of the nation is a smoking dystopian hell landscape. The Democrats then played their alternate reality video, in which thousands of demonstrators sing in perfect harmony. When you add a soundtrack to the scene, you get a soda commercial. There was nothing in the middle: either the protests are either our last Armageddon or the garden of Eden.
Having recently testified about the controversy surrounding Lafayette Park, I was one of those who had high expectations for answers to important questions. Instead, the Democrats dramatically demanded answers and prevented Barr from responding by immediately "taking the time". It happened again and again during the hearing. Democrats simply didn't want to hear answers that would undermine popular narratives.
Several Democrats insisted that the evacuation of Lafayette Park was for the purpose of taking a photo for President Trump in front of the Saint John Church. Barr wanted to explain that there was no connection between the plan he had worked on the previous weekend and the photo, but he was stopped by members like Hank Johnson who said, "They are clearly not going to answer the question" before he could even answer . It was getting bizarre.
Barr was repeatedly cut off by Democrats, while Republicans who did the same to witnesses in other hearings raged against their colleagues. The result was chaos. While Barr Jerrold sarcastically referred to Nadler as "real class" after Nadler refused an application for a break, the hearing was as classy as a demolition derby.
Just as the Democrats didn't want to hear the facts about Lafayette Park, they were determined not to allow Barr to disprove other popular mainstream media narratives, such as Stone's revised sentencing recommendation. Barr was trying to provide specific facts about the case when the Democrats quickly cut him off. Barr then used Republican questions to try to answer them. He explained that Trump had never spoken to him about Stone's sentence and that Barr had never raised the question of the sentence.
Rather, Barr insisted that the change be brought to him by a new United States attorney who believed the trial lawyers had gone completely out of control in their request for up to nine years in prison. Many of us in the field of criminal defense have raised the same objection. The Department of Justice then decided to amend the recommendation to bring it into line with previous cases.
However, Barr said the prosecutor ignored their superiors' instructions and asked for a correction to be made. The next morning when Trump published a ruthless tweet about the original recommendation, it had nothing to do with the decision to change it. When Barr tried to notice that the trial judge approved the recommendation in the case and the final 40-month sentence, the Democrats interrupted him again.
For the Republicans, less was more during the hearing. Journalist Jake Tapper replied to the unrest video, in which a number of reporters spoke about peaceful protests. Tapper showed that the videos had been edited to cut off the same reporters who eventually noticed that largely peaceful protests turned into violent riots.
Nobody seemed eager to hear anything other than noise. Barr provided statistics stating that police shootings of African Americans were down and that the eight African Americans who died in police shootings last year were fewer than white people who were shot by police officers. He also argued that the police are statistically less likely to use lethal force when dealing with black suspects.
These claims are contestable, and the hearing could have led to a discussion of systemic racism, but no one wanted this kind of deep diving. When Barr disagreed that there was systemic racism in the legal system, Cedric Richmond insisted: “When you all came here and brought your top staff with you, you didn't bring any blacks with you. This is systematic racism. "
Indeed, the Democrats seemed to intend not to allow Barr to say anything at the hearing. When Pramila Jayapal accused him of ordering officers to "tear gas and pepper spray and beat demonstrators and injure Americans who were only applying their first constitutional amendment," Barr began to correct the allegations, but was cut off by Jayapal, who warned, "I just asked for a yes or no. So let me just tell you I'm starting to lose my temper."
By this time, many Americans had undoubtedly gone beyond anger because both parties are playing politics while the nation is on fire. Churchill almost caught the moment when he mocked a British Prime Minister, the Earl of Rosebery, as "a big man in a time of little events." What the public saw at this hearing was little people at a time of great events. It was not the lack of interest in answers, but the lack of interest in solutions that immediately became apparent to anyone who watched the hearing.
Jonathan Turley is Shapiro Professor of Law of Public Interest at George Washington University. You can find his updates online at JonathanTurley.
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