Trump attorney general to testify before House panel investigating him for Flynn and Stone decisions

Announcement comes as panel grills whistleblowers about William Barr's alleged misconduct

Griffin Connolly
Wednesday 24 June 2020 18:58
US attorney Aaron Zelinsky says treatment of Trump aide Roger Stone was guided by politics

Attorney general William Barr has agreed to testify next month before the House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating him for the “unprecedented politicisation” of the Justice Department.

It will be the first time Mr Barr, who assumed in February last year after being picked by Donald Trump, has appeared before the panel tasked with overseeing his actions.

As Mr Barr’s spokeswoman announced via Twitter on Wednesday, the attorney general’s decision to testify on 28 July, the Judiciary panel was interviewing three current and former Department of Justice officials who have accused Mr Barr of applying political pressures within the department to help the friends of the president

“I was privileged to serve in the Department of Justice under two Republican and one Democratic [presidents], and 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,” former deputy attorney general Donald Ayer told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton has also said he might be willing to testify against Mr Barr.

Over the last 16 months, House Democrats and former Justice Department officials from both parties have excoriated Mr Barr for his department’s actions surrounding the report of former special counsel Robert Mueller; the criminal cases against Trump associates Roger Stone and Michael Flynn; and protests in Washington, DC, after the death of George Floyd.

Some Democratic members have even flirted with impeaching Mr Barr, although House judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler dismissed such calls as a “waste of time” because “corrupt” Republicans in the Senate would prevent his removal from office.

Along with Mr Ayer, two current DOJ employees testified as whistleblowers about political corruption at the department under Mr Barr’s tenure.

Aaron Zelinsky, a former lawyer on Mr Mueller’s team who worked on the DOJ’s criminal case against former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, said he and his team were pressured by higher-ups to cut Stone “a break”.

Stone was convicted earlier this year of lying to Congress. The start of his prison sentence has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“What I heard – repeatedly – was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president,” Mr Zelinsky testified.

“I was also told that [acting US attorney Timothy Shea] was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favourable treatment because he was ‘afraid of the President’,” he said.

At the hearing, Mr Nadler accused Mr Barr of being Mr Trump’s “fixer”, a term often used to describe the president’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying to the Senate about his attempts to broker a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 campaign.

“Mr Barr’s work at the Department of Justice has nothing to do with correcting injustice,” Mr Nadler said in his opening remarks.

“He has shown us that there is one set of rules for the president’s friends, and another set of rules for the rest of us,” Mr Nadler said.

The panel also heard a scathing review of Mr Trump and Mr Barr from John Elias, a lawyer from the DOJ’s antitrust division who has accused the two men of abusing their power to unfairly target industries they do not like, including the US’s growing cannabis industry and automobile manufacturers.

Mr Elias has referred multiple antitrust investigations launched under Mr Barr to DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz.

“I asked him to investigate whether these matters constituted an abuse of authority, a gross waste of funds, and gross mismanagement,” Mr Elias said of his request for a probe.

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court has intervened to allow the DOJ to proceed with its motion to dismiss its own case against Mr Flynn, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, despite the decision of a lesser court to halt that motion over concerns it was politically motivated.

Mr Trump took a victory lap after the circuit court’s decision on Wednesday.

“Great! Appeals Court Upholds Justice Departments Request To Drop Criminal Case Against General Michael Flynn!” the president tweeted.

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