Barr defends federal law enforcement response in Portland

Joining GOP lawmakers in denouncing violence protests which have targeted a federal courthouse in Oregon, U.S. Attorney General William Barr told a U.S. House panel on Tuesday that he had no regrets about sending in extra personnel to deal with weeks of unrest in Portland.

"Since when is it okay to try to burn down a federal courthouse?" Barr said at one point in a hearing in which he skirmished repeatedly with Democrats on this and other subjects.

"Federal courts are under attack," Barr added. "We are on the defense. We are not out looking for trouble."

But Democrats said the arrival of federal officers - dressed in military camouflage - had created even more problems, comparing it to the excessive force used to clear out Lafayette Square on June 1, during protests over the police killing of George Floyd.

In his first testimony to the House in over a year, both sides came ready to battle, as Democrats accused Barr of wrongly using political power in a number of areas, mainly they claimed to benefit President Trump, and shield conservative demonstrators from scrutiny.

"In Michigan, when protesters carry guns and Confederate flags, and swastikas, and call for the Governor to be beheaded and shot and lynched, somehow you're not aware of that," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).

Barr at one point objected to interruptions as he sparred with Democrats.

"Well, this is a hearing. I thought I was the one who was supposed to be heard," Barr said, as Democrats accused him of doing the President's bidding.

“General Barr, your opening statement reads like it was written by Alex Jones or Roger Stone,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA).

Barr defended his move to reduce a jail sentence for the President's ally Roger Stone, who was convicted on charges of lying to Congress, witness tampering, and more related to the Russia investigation.

"This is a 67-year-old man, first-time offender, no violence, they were trying to put him in jail for 7 to 9 years," Barr said.

Under questioning, Barr denied that he was acting at the behest of the President.

“He’s never asked me, directed me, pressured me, to do anything in a criminal caes,” Barr told Rep. Val Demings (D-FL).

“The President has made a mockery of the Department of Justice,” Demings charged. “No one should care more about that than you.”