Attorney General William Barr, in a contentious congressional hearing Tuesday, defended President Donald Trump and the Justice Department on a variety of matters. Here is a fact-check.
Barr: “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.”
The facts: This is misleading. In posts on Twitter and other public statements, 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 Stone and Michael Flynn. Barr has expressed frustration with 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.”
Barr: “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.”
The facts: This is misleading. 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 Trump’s technically accurate but misleading claim that more white Americans are killed by police than Black Americans.)
When factoring in population size, Black Americans are killed by 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.
Barr: “The vast majority of them, around 90%, are killed by other Blacks, mainly by gunfire.”
The facts: This is misleading. 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% 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% of white murder victims were killed by white perpetrators, and 68.4% of Latino murder victims by other Latinos.
Barr: “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.”
The facts: 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 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.
Barr: “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.”
The facts: False. Barr, like Trump, was 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 finalized or enforced, undermining the argument that it was to blame for the scattered and insufficient delivery of coronavirus tests this year.