House Democrats: “We may very well” impeach William Barr for "reigning terror on the rule of law"

"I think the weight of the evidence and of what's happened leads to that conclusion," Jerry Nadler says

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published June 25, 2020 11:37AM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr speak in the Oval Office before signing an executive order related to regulating social media (Doug MIlls-Pool/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr speak in the Oval Office before signing an executive order related to regulating social media (Doug MIlls-Pool/Getty Images)

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said his committee is mulling opening impeachment proceedings against Attorney General William Barr after bombshell testimony from accused the Trump appointee of politicizing the Department of Justice, including in cases related to the president.

"We're looking into that. We may very well," Nadler told reporters when asked if he was considering impeachment after two career Justice Department officials testified that Barr had politicized agency probes. 

"I think the weight of the evidence and of what's happened leads to that conclusion," Nadler said.

Nadler's comments came after the Justice Department confirmed that Barr would voluntarily testify before his committee next month. The panel had threatened the attorney general with a subpoena.

They were a marked departure from only days earlier, when Nadler said he viewed impeachment as a "waste of time."

"I don't think calls for his impeachment are premature any more than calls for the president's impeachment were premature," Nadler told CNN on Sunday. "But they are a waste of time at this point, because we know that we have a corrupt Republican majority in the Senate, which will not consider an impeachment no matter what the evidence."

The reversal came after the committee heard testimony from multiple current and former Justice Department officials.

Aaron Zelinsky, a federal prosecutor and a former member of special counsel Robert Mueller's team, testified that department officials had improperly interfered in the sentencing recommendation for longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone at Barr's direction, because they were "afraid of the president."

"What had happened was wrong, and I did not want to be a part of what had happened," Zelinsky, who quit the case with three other prosecutors after the intervention, said. ". . . Roger Stone was treated differently because of politics. He received breaks that are, in my experience, unheard of, and all the more so for a defendant in his circumstances: a defendant who lied to Congress, who remained unrepentant and who made threats against a judge in his case. And what I heard repeatedly was that this leniency was happening because of Stone's relationship to the president."

John Elias, a career official at the Justice Department's antitrust division, testified that Barr had improperly targeted marijuana companies with investigations, because he "did not like the nature of their underlying business."

"In my experience, which includes 14 years at the Justice Department at many different levels of the antitrust division . . . I've never seen anything like that," he said.

Former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer, who worked with Barr at the Justice Department under President George H.W. Bush, also testified at the hearing and excoriated the attorney general.

"I am here because I believe that William Barr poses the greatest threat in my lifetime to our rule of law and to public trust in it," he said, adding that the attorney general was "using a criminal investigation to produce fodder for the president's campaign propaganda mill" by intervening in cases related to the Russia investigation.

Along with Stone's case, the Justice Department also intervened in former national security adviser Michael Flynn's case by calling for the criminal charges against him to be dropped, even though Flynn admitted to lying to the FBI. Barr also fired U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who was investigating Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and others in the president's orbit.

Barr also came under fire after he reportedly ordered federal forces to disperse peaceful protesters outside the White House so Trump could have a photo-op in front of a nearby church.

At one point during Wednesday's hearing, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, began banging on his table in an attempt to drown out Ayer's testimony.

Watchdog groups have called for Barr's impeachment for months.

Barr "has repeatedly attacked the integrity of our justice system in order to personally and politically benefit the president and his allies," the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said in a petition calling for his impeachment. "He has undermined the idea that all Americans are entitled to equal justice under law. His recent actions against protestors demonstrate a willingness to abuse his power in service of the president's racist agenda. Congress must remove Barr from office before he does further damage to our democracy and to Americans' safety."

Karen Hobert Flynn, the head of the advocacy group Common Cause, said "Congress cannot allow these abuses to stand."

"Common Cause called for William Barr's impeachment in December 2019 and we renew that call today," she added. "Barr's attempted Friday night firing of Berman is yet another example of Barr's willingness to damage our nation's system of justice to protect President Trump and the Republican Party."

And momentum could be shifting, with at least two Democrats publicly calling for impeachment on the day of the whistleblower testimony. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., called for Barr to be impeached during Wednesday's hearing.

"We should pursue impeachment of Bill Barr, because he is reigning terror on the rule of law," Cohen said.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., seconded the motion later in the afternoon on Twitter

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aaron Zelinsky Aggregate Donald Trump Jerry Nadler Michael Flynn Politics Republicans Roger Stone William Barr