Barr Repeats Trump Falsehoods in Congressional Testimony - The New York Times

Fact Check

The attorney general echoed many of the president’s inaccurate claims on nationwide protests, police shootings and the coronavirus.

Attorney General William P. Barr testifying on Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee. Credit... Pool photo by Chip Somodevilla

Attorney General William P. Barr, in a contentious congressional hearing on Tuesday, defended President Trump and the Justice Department on a variety of matters. Here is a fact-check.

What Mr. Barr SAID

“The president has not attempted to interfere in these decisions. On the contrary, he has told me from the start that he expects me to exercise my independent judgment to make whatever call I think is right, and that is precisely what I’ve done.”

This is misleading. In posts on Twitter and in other public statements, Mr. Trump has repeatedly disparaged the Justice Department’s investigations and employees and made his feelings clear in high-profile cases, including those of allies like Roger J. Stone Jr. and Michael T. Flynn. Mr. Barr has expressed frustration with Mr. Trump’s attacks, saying in February that the president’s attacks “make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors in the department that we’re doing our work with integrity.”

What Mr. Barr SAID

“According to statistics compiled by The Washington Post, the number of unarmed Black men killed by police so far this year is eight. The number of unarmed white men killed by police over the same time period is 11. And the overall numbers of police shootings has been decreasing.”

This is misleading. Mr. Barr accurately cited a database of police shootings compiled by The Washington Post. But the raw numbers obscure the pronounced racial disparity in such shootings. (The statement was also an echo of Mr. Trump’s technically accurate, but misleading claim that “more white” Americans are killed by the police than Black Americans.)

When factoring in population size, Black Americans are killed by the police at more than twice the rate as white Americans, according to the database. Research has also shown that in the United States, on average, the probability of being shot by a police officer for someone who is Black and unarmed is higher than for someone who is white and armed.

Nationwide, the number of police shootings has remained steady since independent researchers began tracking them — declining in major cities, but increasing in suburbs and rural areas.

When Representative Cedric L. Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana, took issue with Mr. Barr’s presentation of the data, Mr. Barr responded, “You have to adjust it by, you know, the race of the criminal.” But some research has shown that even when controlling for the demographics of those arrested, there are still racial disparities in the use of police force.

What Mr. Barr SAID

“The vast majority of them, around 90 percent, are killed by other Blacks, mainly by gunfire.”

This is misleading. Mr. Barr cited this statistic to argue that “the threat to Black lives posed by crime on the streets is massively greater than any threat posed by police misconduct.”

He is correct that about 88.9 percent of Black murder victims were killed by Black perpetrators in 2018. But left unsaid was the fact that murder victims and their perpetrators are overwhelmingly of the same race or ethnicity: 80.7 percent of white murder victims were killed by white perpetrators, and 68.4 percent of Latino murder victims by other Latinos.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in a 2018 report on police shootings, identified claims like Mr. Barr’s about intraracial crime among Black Americans as part of an “inevitability argument.”

“The ‘Black on Black’ crime narrative as an explanation for police excessive use of force disregards the structural and historical issues that formed these neighborhoods, as well as the social and economic factors that currently sustain them,” the commission wrote.

Mr. Trump cited several inaccurate statistics to make a similar version of this argument on Twitter during his 2016 presidential campaign.

What Mr. Barr SAID

“In the wake of George Floyd’s death, violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protest to wreak senseless havoc and destruction on innocent victims. The current situation in Portland is a telling example. Every night for the past two months, hundreds of rioters have laid siege to the federal courthouse and other nearby federal property.”

This is exaggerated. While some protesters in Portland have been violent, many others have been peaceful and have included high school students, military veterans, off-duty lawyers and lines of women who call themselves the “Wall of Moms.”

Videos show that federal agents, who arrived in the city on July 4, have responded aggressively and sometimes with disproportionate force through the use of tear gas, flash bangs and pepper balls. In some cases, they attacked protesters when there was no apparent threat, including the case of a Navy veteran whose hands were smashed by officers.

Mr. Barr’s timeline of two months of nonstop riots in Portland is also hyperbolic. Protests have ranged in size and violence levels, and the police have not declared the situation a riot every night. The Oregonian also reported that the courthouse was not a target of protests until July, when federal agents were dispatched to the city.

What Mr. Barr SAID

“The problem with the testing system was a function of President Obama’s mishandling of the C.D.C. and his efforts to centralize everything in the C.D.C.”

False. Mr. Barr, like Mr. Trump, was most likely referring to a “draft guidance” issued in 2014 by the Obama administration to regulate laboratory-developed tests necessary to track a pandemic. But the policy was never made final or enforced, undermining the argument that it was to blame for the scattered and insufficient delivery of coronavirus tests this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention botched the development of its own tests, leaving the United States initially blind to the virus’s spread and behind other nations. (The Justice Department plays no role in procuring or distributing coronavirus tests.)

What Mr. Barr SAID

“The historical building on Lafayette Park was burned down. St. John’s was set on fire.”

This is exaggerated. When protesters gathered on June 1 in Lafayette Square, near the White House, as part of demonstrations in response to the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, the authorities used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear the area of peaceful protesters. Mr. Trump then walked across the park for a photo opportunity in front of St. John’s Church. A day earlier, a small fire had been set in the basement of the church, but it was contained.

A spokesman for Washington’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department said that damage from the fires was largely negligible throughout the protests and that no buildings were permanently destroyed as many had sprinkler systems installed.

Mr. Barr may have been referring to a utility and bathroom facility in Lafayette Square that was badly damaged, but not “burned down.” But other than its location in the park, the spokesman said, it had no historical significance.

What Mr. Barr Said

“Well, first, it is my understanding that no tear gas was used on Monday, June 1.”

This is misleading. The United States Park Police has said it did not use chloroacetophenone, or CS, gas, one of the most common types of tear gas. But it did use “smoke canisters and pepper balls” — and specifically products made by the PepperBall company — on protesters in Lafayette Square that day.

The C.D.C. defines the term “tear gas” as riot control agents made of chemical compounds that “temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs and skin” — symptoms that protesters and reporters described experiencing in Lafayette Square.

Mr. Barr’s denial was also disputed by an Army National Guard officer who was present during the protests and who also testified to Congress on Tuesday.

“I could feel irritation in my eyes and nose, and based on my previous exposure to tear gas in my training at West Point and later in my Army training, I recognized that irritation as effects consistent with CS or tear gas,” Maj. Adam DeMarco wrote in his opening statement. “And later that evening, I found spent tear gas canisters on the street nearby.”

A 2009 Justice Department review on its use of less-lethal weapons classified the PepperBall system as a chemical agent and noted that it contains a “highly irritating pepper powder.”

A 2014 Justice Department assessment of the police response to the protests in Ferguson, Mo., similarly observed that PepperBalls “would likely cause a burning sensation” if the content touches the skin. Last year, Mr. Trump signed a law banning the export of certain munitions to Hong Kong police. That list included both tear gas and pepper balls.

What Mr. Barr Said

Representative Mary Scanlon, Democrat of Pennsylvania: “OK. But in fact, you have no evidence that foreign countries can successfully sway our elections with counterfeit ballots, do you?”

Mr. Barr: “No, I don’t, but I have common sense.”

This lacks evidence. Election officials and experts have widely rejected this idea as nearly impossible, noting that ballots are printed on very specific stock and often have specific tracking systems like bar codes.

“It’s so much more difficult than a cyberattack,” said Lawrence Norden, the director of the election reform program at the Brennan Center. “You’d not only have to attack the printer, you’d have to get information from the jurisdiction and get voter registration information. You’d have to have some way of mailing the ballots from an address and get the signature of the voter. It would be an exceptionally difficult attack.”

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https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/29/us/politics/barr-trump-factcheck-congressional-testimony.html