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AG Bill Barr Grilled by House Lawmakers on Protest Crackdown, Voter Suppression & Pandemic Failures

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We play highlights from Attorney General William Barr’s grilling by the House Judiciary Committee over how he sent militarized federal forces to confront Black Lives Matter protesters, and his opposition to voting by mail, and get response from a close friend of Congressmember John Lewis who is now running for Senate. “In spite of the machinations of Donald Trump and those who do his bidding, including the attorney general, the good news is that we’re seeing a multiracial coalition of people pouring out into American streets,” responds Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, “saying that we’re concerned about the soul of our democracy.” Rev. Warnock is running as a Democrat for Senate in Georgia.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Attorney General William Barr faced questions from the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday in a confrontational five-hour hearing chaired by New York Congressman Jerry Nadler.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: 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.

AMY GOODMAN: The hearing was delayed by about an hour because the chair, Jerry Nadler, was in a car accident, though uninjured. In one of the hearing’s most contentious exchanges, Washington Congressmember Pramila Jayapal noted the discrepancy between Barr’s deployment of militarized troops in response to Black Lives Matter protesters and armed militia members who displayed white nationalist symbols as they stormed state capitol buildings in protest of public health measures.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: On two separate occasions, after President Trump tweeted, “Liberate Michigan,” to subvert stay-home orders to protect the public health of people in Michigan, protesters swarmed the Michigan Capitol carrying guns, some with swastikas, Confederate flags, and one even with a dark-haired doll with a noose around its neck. Are you aware that these protesters called for the governor to be lynched, shot and beheaded?


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: There is a real discrepancy in how you react as the attorney general, the top cop in this country. When white men with swastikas storm a government building with guns, there is no need for the president to, quote, 'activate' you, because they’re getting the president’s personal agenda done. But when Black people and people of color protest police brutality, systemic racism and the president’s very own lack of response to those critical issues, then you forcibly remove them with armed federal officers, pepper bombs, because they are considered terrorists by the president.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Washington Congressmember Pramila Jayapal. With coronavirus deaths in the United States nearing 150,000, and the last day, the largest spike in deaths — 1,200 — since May, Congressmember Cedric Richmond of Louisiana also questioned Barr’s opposition to voting by mail in November’s election.

REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND: You are aware that African Americans, Black people, disproportionately die from COVID-19, coronavirus, correct?

ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: Yes, I think that’s right.

REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND: And not that it would be the first time that African Americans would risk their lives to vote in this country, to preserve its democracy, but the suggestion is that them having the ability to vote by mail would somehow lead to massive voter fraud. But I won’t stick to that.

ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: I didn’t say that. I just stated, I think, what is a reality, which is that if you have wholesale mail-in voting, it substantially increases the risk of fraud.

REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND: But it doesn’t make it likely.


AMY GOODMAN: In fact, the attorney general has voted by mail himself.

As lawmakers questioned Attorney General Barr, the late Congressman John Lewis lay in state on the steps of the Capitol for a public viewing. Today, we’ll look at the life of John Lewis, ahead of his funeral Thursday at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But first we discuss this remarkable hearing with the Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, who serves as senior pastor at that church, the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and will officiate over Lewis’s funeral on Thursday. Reverend Warnock is also running as a Democrat for Senate in Georgia.

Reverend Warnock, it’s great to have you back with us. In a moment, we’re going to talk with you about your dear friend, congressmember, civil rights icon, John Lewis. But we want to start on this highly contentious hearing yesterday on the issue of voting rights and what the federal government has done in sending a surge of agents to cities that have major Black Lives Matter protests. Your thoughts?

REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Good morning, Amy. It’s good to be here with you and Juan again.

We are witnessing what we have seen over the last three-and-a-half years under this administration. And that is a kind of hostility towards communities of color that is unabashed and unembarrassed. We are at an inflection point in this country. In spite of the machinations of Donald Trump and those who do his bidding, including the attorney general, the good news is that we’re seeing a multiracial coalition of people pouring out into American streets, demonstrating, by and large, nonviolently and saying that we’re concerned about the soul of our democracy.

And for William Barr, the top cop in our country, to somehow suggest that vote by mail leads to fraud is wrong on its face. But it’s part of what we’ve seen with the Republicans as we’ve dealt with this whole issue of voter suppression. They’ve used the language of voter fraud. Everybody knows that voter fraud through voter ID, for example, is almost nonexistent. It’s really a way of trying to suppress the vote. But it won’t work. We’re pushing back here in Georgia. And people are pushing back all across the country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Reverend Warnock, I wanted to ask you — in addition, during Attorney General Barr’s testimony, he made some remarks in terms of police abuse. And he said, quote, “The threat to Black lives posed by crime on the streets is massively greater than any threat posed by police misconduct.” I’m wondering your response to that comment.

REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Listen, it’s a typical red herring that we hear from the likes of William Barr, Rudy Giuliani and others. The point is, is that we entrust the police with state power, and they are sworn to protect. And instead of that, people of color very often find themselves on the receiving end of state-sanctioned violence. And so, the response to police brutality is that there’s crime in communities? There’s crime in all communities. And everybody knows that people typically commit crimes against those who are in the closest proximity to them. So this is a typical red herring. It’s a distraction. And it won’t stand. We have to continue to push back against police brutality.

And as we do, we are inspired by those who fought the good fight long before us. We’re celebrating the life of John Lewis tomorrow at our church. And I think of the fact that John Lewis, on a bridge in Selma, withstood police brutality in order to win for us the right to vote. And all of these decades later, even as we celebrate him, we’re fighting against police brutality, and we’re trying to maintain and strengthen our right to vote. And so, we can’t turn back now. We have to be vigilant and focused and disciplined. And it’s more important now than it’s been in a long time. We say all the time that elections have consequences. We’re seeing, under this administration, that elections, quite literally, can be a matter of life and death. And so folks are standing up, and I’m grateful to be a part of a coalition.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I also wanted to ask you about another aspect of the hearing, when congressmembers questioned Attorney General Barr on his characterization of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as, quote, “superb,” and especially the New York Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries running down a series of Trump missteps, and, of course, where the president famously said that the number of coronavirus cases would go from 15 to zero.

REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Superb? You should tell that to the families of now nearly 150,000 Americans who are dead. Superb? We have more than our share of the coronavirus cases. In a real sense, this crisis is being handled in our country as if we were a country with no resources at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Warnock, we want to go to that clip of Hakeem Jeffries questioning Attorney General William Barr.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES: February, President Trump falsely claimed that the number of coronavirus cases would go from 15 to zero in a few days. Was that superb? Yes or no?

ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: I’d have to see the context in which it was said.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES: Here’s the context. The number of cases didn’t go down to zero. It’s over 4 million. Let’s go to March. In that month, President Trump said, “I take no responsibility at all,” for the failure in testing. Was that superb? Yes or no?

ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: It was accurate. The problem with the testing system was a function of President Obama’s mishandling of the CDC and his efforts to centralize everything in the CDC when it didn’t have the capacity to test —

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Barr. That is inaccurate. That’s a myth. That’s a lie.

ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: It wasn’t until this administration — it wasn’t until —

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES: Reclaiming my time. In April, President Trump irresponsibly suggested that the American people inject themselves with bleach. Was that superb? Yes or no?


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES: That’s exactly what he said. That’s what the American people heard. And you know it, and you can’t defend it.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, that’s New York Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries questioning Attorney General William Barr. And I wanted to add to Juan’s question, Reverend Warnock, on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and take it right to Georgia, where you have this amazing confrontation going on right now between the African American mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Bottoms, versus the governor, who refuses to impose, for example, a mask mandate, though she did in Atlanta. And he has now sued her personally, saying that she should not be able to speak to the press — this African American woman mayor should not be allowed to speak out.

REV. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Yes. I mean, this is par for the course with this administration. Listen, this COVID-19 challenge does not know political party. They’re playing politics, literally, with people’s lives. We have nearly 150,000 Americans dead, 4 million cases. And Georgia is not doing well. And we’re seeing, in the case of Governor Kemp, as we see with William Barr, folks who are doing the bidding of this president. And what we need is leaders who are elected to serve the people rather than their own interests. And as you point out, yeah, the specter of literally robbing an African American mayor — or, attempting to rob her of the right of her own voice to speak on behalf of her own constituency is antidemocratic, and it’s beyond the pale.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to our discussion with you, Reverend Warnock. We want to talk to you specifically about John Lewis. You’ll be officiating over his funeral tomorrow in Atlanta. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Wintley Phipps performing “Amazing Grace” Monday in the Capitol Rotunda as the late Georgia Democratic lawmaker John Lewis lay in state, the first African American lawmaker to lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. When President Trump was asked if he would be joining so many others in paying respects to Congressman Lewis, he said, “No, I’m not going.”

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Next story from this daily show

Rev. Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church on Legacy of John Lewis & Ongoing Fight for Voting Rights

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