In an oversight hearing on Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee assessed the allegations that Attorney General William Barr engaged in political interference and prosecutorial independence. Congress heard evidence as to whether AG Barr held “politics over the law.”
Witnesses included Donald Ayer, Former Deputy Attorney General under George H.W. Bush, and two Justice Department attorneys, John Elias and Aaron Zelinsky.
Michael Mukasey, the 81st Attorney General under George W. Bush also bore witness to the other side of the argument, serving as a kind of character witness to AG Barr.
The hearing began with a significant parliamentary skirmish where one congressman made a point of order, refusing to accept the Chair’s decision to allow the witnesses to testify using video conferencing software. Discussions remained heated with accusations of bias on both sides.
Ayer did not mince words, listing AG Barr’s perceived political interferences including the removal of several justices. He cites Barr’s propensity to use criminal investigations to “produce fodder for [the] President’s Propaganda mill.”
He concluded AG Barr “does regularly lie in ways that impact official action.” At that moment, Rep. Gohmert began to disruptively bang on the table at his disapproval of the chairman’s inaction to quiet Ayer’s conclusion after he went into overtime.
The proceedings were characterized by such frequent interruptions, highlighting the political tension amongst members of the committee.
Elias represented a more specific condemnation of the Attorney General’s actions; his perceived abuse of the Antitrust Division of the DOJ and the Attorney General’s investigation into mergers within the cannabis industry.
Specifically, Elias brought up an investigation into the merger of MedMen and PharmaCann. In spite of the fact that the Antitrust Division found little proof of the necessity for an investigation, the Attorney General pushed for an investigation.
Zelinsky focused his testimony on the case of Roger Stone. He alleged that the acting D.C. attorney general felt pressured to grant Roger Stone leniency due to politics, including reducing his sentence. This resulted in Zelinsky’s resignation from the D.C. Attorney General’s office.
Various congress members brought up the incident last week where peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square were hit with pepper spray to make way for President Trump’s Bible photo op. When asked outright if AG Barr is a clear and present danger, Ayer said yes due to his inclinations to present the President as “above the law”.