The Barr Hearing and The Triumph Of Small People In An Era Of Great Events

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Below is my column on the recent hearing before the House Judiciary Committee with Attorney General William Barr.  The hearing was widely ridiculed after Barr was repeatedly prevented from answering questions.  It was a great disappointment.  I just testified on the Lafayette Park controversy and many of us were waiting for a month to hear from Barr directly on the details, particularly the statements of many in the media that the Park area was cleared to allow President Trump to take a picture in front of St. John’s Church.  Democratic members continued to refer to that as a fact (as has many in the media) despite the federal agencies supplying information that shows that the plan was approved days before and the order was given with no knowledge of the photo op. Yet, on repeated occasions Barr tried to supply times and dates, Democratic members immediately “took back the time” and even got angry when he tried to answer.  The same is true on other controversies.  We lost an opportunity to actually answer these questions. Yet, after repeatedly blocking Barr from answering, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called him a “Blob” at the hearing.  He might seemed less blob-like if Democrats allowed him to speak. Instead, the hearing was an example of how Congress will work tirelessly not to find answers when a narrative is too good to check.

Here is the column:

205px-Winston_Churchill_1941_photo_by_Yousuf_KarshWinston Churchill said, “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” If he knew members of the House Judiciary Committee, he could have cut that time in half, as they might convince people that democracy is a failed experiment.

The hearing with Attorney General William Barr had been long awaited for weeks as a way to get answers on issues ranging from the controversial clearing of Lafayette Park, to the intervention in the case of Roger Stone, to the violence across various cities. Instead, the public watched as both parties engaged in hours of primal scream therapy, with Barr for the most part forced to remain as silent as some life size anatomical doll.

The videos shown by the rival parties captured the utter absurdity of the day. Republicans played what could only be described as eight minutes of virtual “riot porn” for the hard right. By the end, one would think much of the nation is a smoking dystopian hellscape. Democrats then played their alternate reality video showing thousands of protesters chanting together in perfect harmony. Add a soundtrack to the scene and you would have a soda commercial. There was nothing in the middle: either the protests are either our final Armageddon or the Garden of Eden.

After testifying recently on the Lafayette Park controversy, I was one of those who had great expectations for answers to significant questions. Instead, Democrats dramatically demanded answers and then stopped Barr from answering by immediately “taking back the time.” It happened over and over during the hearing. Democrats simply did not want to hear any answers that would undermine the popular narratives.

Several Democrats insisted the clearing of Lafayette Park was for the sole purpose of a photo for President Trump in front of Saint John Church. Barr sought to explain that there was no connection between the plan formed the weekend before and the photo, but he was stopped by members like Hank Johnson saying “you clearly will not answer the question” before he could even start to answer. It got more and more bizarre.

Barr was repeatedly cut off by Democrats, while Republicans, who have done the same thing to witnesses in other hearings, raged against their colleagues. The result was mayhem. While Barr sarcastically referred to Jerrold Nadler as a “real class act” after Nadler refused a request for a break, the hearing had as much class as a demolition derby.

Just as Democrats did not want to hear the facts regarding Lafayette Park, they were adamant in not allowing Barr to refute other popular narratives in the mainstream media, like the changed sentencing recommendation for Stone. Barr struggled to give specific facts on that case as Democrats quickly interrupted him. Barr then used questions from Republicans to try to answer. He explained that Trump never spoke to him of the sentencing of Stone and that Barr had never raised the sentencing issue.

Rather, Barr insisted that the change was raised to him by a new United States attorney who felt the trial prosecutors were wildly off base in their demand for up to nine years of prison. Many of us in the criminal defense area raised the same objection. The Justice Department then decided to change the recommendation to be consistent with past cases.

However, Barr said the trial prosecutors ignored those instructions from their superiors, requiring the filing of a correction. When Trump posted a reckless tweet the next morning on the original recommendation, it had nothing to do with the decision to change it. When Barr tried to note that the trial judge agreed with the recommendation in the case as well as the ultimate sentence of 40 months, Democrats cut him off again.

For Republicans, less was also more during the hearing. Journalist Jake Tapper responded to the video they showed of rioting, which included a series of reporters talking about peaceful protests. Tapper showed that the videos had been edited to cut off the same reporters who eventually note that largely peaceful protests became violent rioting.

No one seemed eager to hear anything beyond sound bites. Barr offered statistics that the shootings of African Americans by police officers has been on the decline and that the eight African Americans who died in the previous year from police shootings represented a smaller number than whites shot by police officers. He also argued that police are statistically less likely to use lethal force in dealing with black suspects.

Those claims are subject to challenge, and the hearing could have had a discussion of systemic racism, but no one wanted that type of deep dive. When Barr disagreed there is systemic racism in the legal system, Cedric Richmond insisted, “When you all came here and brought your top staff, you brought no black people. That is systematic racism.”

Indeed, Democrats seemed intent to not allow Barr to say anything in the hearing. When Pramila Jayapal accused him of ordering officers “to tear gas, pepper spray, and beat protesters and injure Americans who were just simply exercising their First Amendment,” Barr began to correct the claims but was cut off by Jayapal, who warned, “I just asked for a yes or no. So let me just tell you, I am starting to lose my temper.”

By that point, many Americans undoubtedly had moved beyond anger, as both parties fiddle with politics while the nation burns. Churchill yet again almost captured the moment when he derided one British prime minister, the Earl of Rosebery, as “a great man in an era of small events.” What the public witnessed in this hearing were small people in an era of great events. It was not the lack of interest in answers but the lack of interest in solutions that was readily apparent to anyone watching the hearing.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.

114 thoughts on “The Barr Hearing and The Triumph Of Small People In An Era Of Great Events”

  1. That hearing was the most cringeworthy television event I’ve watched since the Academy Awards standing ovation for Roman Polanski, in absentia to avoid serving time for rape, in between woke scolding America.

    A line that stuck out was something like “I thought at a hearing I was supposed to be heard.” Barr.

    1. Karen S – my other favorites from the hearing was:

      Yes, I am going to answer that because I am under oath.

      Yes
      I will take that as a no.

      May I have a break
      No
      I waited 45 minutes while you had a automobile accident (we haven’t seen reports of that yet), I haven’t had lunch
      This is a courtesy we give all witnesses.
      We are almost done
      I need a break
      Just a few more minutes
      You are a class act

  2. Being democratic carried no weight with me. I want to know are the Constitutional. Since we are not a Democracy and that system was rejected by the founders nine times in forming the Constitutional Republic . Since the very few parts of a democracy were adopted into the Constitutional Republic but so far have been rejected by the so called Demopcrat Party who are in no way democratic.I object to the poor choice of words.

  3. I see the Nancy Pelosi has developed a new Idea of free speech.
    She decided that free speech is guaranteed only to those who Pelosi agrees with.
    Such ideas were available before and after Covid19 was loosed on the world.

  4. I watched the entire hearing and I have never seen a more disgusting display of idiocy. I am ashamed I ever voted for a Democrat seeing what they have become. If there are any potential Scoop Jacksons, Tip O’Neils, or Daniel Moynihans in congress they have probably been cancelled.

  5. I suspect the parents of the mob in Seattle and Portland are running the House of Representatives.

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  7. I compare these Democratic morons to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Tip O’Neil, Scoop Jackson, a few others…and it makes me wanna cry.

      1. O’Neill was a machine hack. Not a bad man, but an unimaginative man quite distinct from Moynihan and Jackson.

        1. Probably, but he never would have called federal agents storm troopers or been silent while federal courthouses were destroyed. I wouldn’t care if he was a crook; at least he would have been a sane crook.

          I think I would prefer Al Capone to the vile people in the Democrat party now.

          1. AFAIK, he wasn’t a crook. Machines have a spectrum of characters in them. Harry Truman was not a crook and I don’t think anyone’s uncovered evidence that O’Neill was either. Richard J. Daley had a suspiciously expensive 2d home (that his heirs still own), but that was about it.

            1. I didn’t say he was a crook. I used “if” rather than “that” regarding Tip. I thought it clear that I would prefer a crooked Tip over any of the Democrats we have now, and would even take Al Capone over most of them. These people are out to destroy the country. They have even gotten anti-gun, tofu munching liberals saying they want to buy guns because they are getting scared of the mobs they have stirred up.

  8. Attorney General William Barr, where in the world is John Durham and what in the world is he waiting for; covering up?

  9. I don’t know why anyone thought they would get answers. Democrats have spent the last 4 years inventing conspiracies and refusing to admit that all they are is mythical conspiracy theories. Collusion has been debunked so thoroughly that no one should ever trust anyone in the media yet there are Americans and specifically Democrats in Congress that refuse to accept it has been debunked. They are still pushing it. They have all kinds of wild BS theories about all this magical treason that Flynn has committed, yet they have no proof of any of it other than one biased Federal judge who is trying to destroy our justice system because he has a deep seeded hate for Flynn. They go on and on about “Roger Stone is blackmailing Trump.” but they can’t expand and tell us exactly what that is about because the collusion nonsense was already debunked. We are living in an age where we can get information instantly. We all thought that this would make promotion of lies much harder, but instead, it has created an echo chamber where it is much easier. You can now blatantly lie and be comfortable in the fact that some fact checker somewhere will back you up and cover for you because the ends justify the means. Today though, the tech is run by progressives and they engage actively in closing down and portraying conservative speech to be morally repugnant when the left would probably make Leni Riefenstahl proud.

    …oh, the key moment of the hearings was when Barr asked when it had become acceptible to let “protestors” burn down Federal Courthouses. I would love for every single Democrat to be asked that question. Joe Biden as well. Especially Joe Biden.

  10. Sotomayor has apparently said that conservative justices are biased. What would a soi disant “Wise Latina” know about bias?”

    On the other hand, she does seem intimately familiar with stupidity.

      1. We should all know that this was stupid. She ran afoul of professional ethics by criticizing the integrity and fairness of other justices. It rots what is left of confidence in the fairness of the courts. Roberts has tried to assure us there are no Obama Justices. Sotomayor just proved him wrong.

        Professor Turley addressed this issue once before when a district judge went on a vile rant about biased judges. This is not a subject judges should embrace.

    1. The poster girl for unconstitutional affirmative action and actionable jurisprudential negligence, dereliction and corruption enjoying the various and sundry benefits and entitlements of fraudulent hyphenates and misandrist, non-productive feminazis. Who will take back America, correct the numerous aberrant anomalies and commence an American Constitutional Renaissance?

  11. We have a President and a Republican Party that does not believe in truth. The President has lied more than 20,000 times per the Washington Post count. So they accuse the other side of lying, and accuse the mainstream media of lying, to cover up their own lying.

    In that context, it is hard to have a legitimate debate that involves the President or the Republican Party, particularly when a questioner is limited to 5 minutes and the witness knows he can filibuster by simply lying – there is no time to correct things point by point. Too much time is spent correcting the lies. So anyone who engages with this President or this Republican Party looks like they just can’t agree on anything. But one side is largely telling the truth and one side is consistently lying. It is why our national discourse in the age of Trump has gone so far downhill, and why Trump cannot seem to solve any of the real problems facing the country – only the fake problems he invents.

    1. Bill Barf was the fat bully in grade school that copied the answers on your test and accused you of cheating off him. He is our Very own Hans Frank. (JT to a minor degree as well in a figurative sense too)

      He should be disBarred (see what I did there?) and jailed.

      wingnut over reaction in 3…2…1…

    2. We have a President and a Republican Party that does not believe in truth.

      Chuckles. You’ve got Gainesville and Natacha intervening in every thread, to give us all a display of the unimpeachable integrity of street-level Democrats.

    3. Wow, does the sun rise in the west for you? Believing Democrats telling are the truth is a sad statement. But then the Bible does say that:
      Isaiah 28:14-16 ESV
      Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers, who rule this people in Jerusalem! Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have an agreement, when the overwhelming whip passes through it will not come to us, for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter”; therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’

  12. Barr is a full-on brown nose syncophant. He is a disgrace to the office, but the worst part is, he is a syncophant for someone like Trump, patently unfit for office, who cheated to get there, who is a toady for Russia, and who won’t even ask about bounties being paid for killing Americans, much less do anything about it. Barr actually hesitated when asked whether it is appropriate to solicit or accept help from a foreign government in an election. This transcends politics.

    1. Natacha, I keep telling you and Seth, and the other members of the Joey Dementia for President crowd, that Barr is not your problem.

      John Durham is your problem. A very large problem.

      And you’ve got another major problem looming. Old Uncle Joe has to exit his basement soon and head to Milwaukee for the convention.

      Once his coronation as your Democratic Dementia candidate is complete, he’s supposed to debate Trump 3 different times.

      That’s not going to work out well.

  13. What the public witnessed in this hearing were small people in an era of great events.

    Democrats did everything they could short of launching industrial-grade fireworks and Molotov cocktails at the Attorney General. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they pointed high-powered lasers to provoke him. And for Nadler to deny him the 5 minute break, while Nadler was able to leave the room, was absolutely immature and without class.

    1. Olly: “And for Nadler to deny him the 5 minute break, while Nadler was able to leave the room, was absolutely immature and without class.”

      ***
      Maybe eating another roast beef sandwich with horseradish was a higher priority for Nadler than a mere toilet break for a witness. It is hard to look at Nadler without imagining him vacuuming up all of the buffet in a Las Vegas casino.

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