Chairman Nadler Opening Statement for Oversight Hearing on Political Interference and Threats to Prosecutorial Independence
Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during an oversight hearing on the unprecedented politicization of the Department of Justice under President Trump and Attorney General William Barr:
"Last Friday, without explanation, Attorney General William Barr announced that Geoffrey Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was 'stepping down.'
"This was, of course, untrue. Mr. Berman had not resigned. In a statement, Mr. Berman made clear that he had no intention of resigning—and every intention of moving forward with his work, 'without delay or interruption.' He emphasized that point. He wanted to stay on the job to ensure that his work would continue unimpeded.
"In order to understand the stakes in this standoff, it is important to note that the work of Mr. Berman’s office has included a number of criminal investigations aimed at individuals close to President Trump—among them, the President’s attorney, Michael Cohen; the President’s inaugural committee; and Rudy Giuliani, the President’s current counsel, campaign advisor, and direct line to Kiev.
"On Saturday, Mr. Barr attempted to fire Mr. Berman directly. Even then, Mr. Berman resisted. Only when he was certain that his deputy, a qualified career prosecutor, would take his place as acting U.S. Attorney did he relent and step aside.
"So, what are we to make of these events?
"If this had been an isolated incident—if the Attorney General had simply misjudged the situation and thought that Mr. Berman would go quietly—then we might chalk up this episode to simple miscommunication and incompetence.
"But make no mistake: this was not an isolated incident.
"The effort to remove Mr. Berman is part of a clear and dangerous pattern of conduct that began when Mr. Barr took office and continues to this day.
"Mr. Barr’s actions make clear that, in his Department of Justice, the President’s allies get special treatment, the President’s enemies—real and imagined—are targeted for extra scrutiny, and the needs of the American people are generally ignored.
"Mr. Barr’s practice of using the Department to shield the President and his allies goes back to the beginning of his tenure at DOJ.
"Last year, when the Special Counsel had completed his investigation—when Mr. Barr had the report in hand but before the public could read it—the Attorney General blatantly mischaracterized the Special Counsel’s findings on the President’s behalf. Among other deceptions, Mr. Barr pretended that compelling evidence of obstruction of justice—including evidence that the President may have lied directly to the Special Counsel—simply did not exist.
"Mr. Barr’s deception seems blatant—but don’t take my word for it. The Special Counsel wrote to Mr. Barr directly to complain about the inaccuracies, which lingered uncorrected for weeks. A federal judge later said that Mr. Barr’s 'inconsistencies' were so 'distorted' and 'misleading' that he questioned Mr. Barr’s credibility and, in turn, could not trust the Department’s assurances to the court about the contents of the Mueller report.
"Mr. Barr has also worked to undermine the criminal cases stemming from the Special Counsel’s work.
"Early this year, after the President’s associate Roger Stone was convicted of obstructing justice, Mr. Barr overruled his career prosecutors and recommended a lighter sentence for President Trump’s friend. One of those prosecutors—Mr. Zelinsky—will testify today about that experience.
"We should be clear about the timeline in the Stone case. If nothing else, it helps explain why Mr. Berman refused to go quietly over the weekend.
"In January, Mr. Barr removed the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and replaced her with his longtime aide. In February, President Trump tweeted his feelings about Stone’s ongoing criminal case. The President was outraged that Mr. Stone, his friend, might be punished for obstructing justice. Quickly thereafter, Mr. Barr reached into the case, overruled his prosecutors, and submitted a wildly lenient sentencing recommendation for Mr. Stone. All four prosecutors involved in the case, including Mr. Zelinsky, immediately withdrew. The next day, President Trump tweeted his congratulations to Mr. Barr.
"The Stone case wasn’t an isolated incident either.
"In May, Mr. Barr abruptly reversed course on the prosecution of Michael Flynn—the President’s former National Security Advisor, who pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador. Once again, the President tweeted his feelings about the case. Once again, Mr. Barr reached into the proceedings, overruled his career prosecutors, misrepresented statements by Department officials, and asked the court to dismiss the charges against Mr. Flynn. And, once again, the President tweeted his delight at the outcome.
"Former federal judge John Gleeson—appointed by the court to account for Mr. Barr’s unprecedented motion to dismiss the case against Mr. Flynn—argued that: 'The facts surrounding the filing of the government’s motion constitute clear evidence of gross prosecutorial abuse. They reveal an unconvincing effort to disguise as legitimate a decision to dismiss that is based solely on the fact that Flynn is a political ally of President Trump.'
Judge Gleeson was not alone. Days after Mr. Barr insisted on dropping charges against Mr. Flynn, almost 2,000 former FBI agents and Department of Justice officials wrote an open letter calling for the Attorney General’s resignation.
"Now, my Republican colleagues may try to explain these incidents away. They may tell you that Barr’s attempts to fire Berman were harmless, that Flynn and Stone should be excused for their crimes, and that Mr. Barr’s extraordinary attempts to protect the President from criminal liability are necessary to correct for a vast conspiracy at the Justice Department.
"Those excuses ring hollow. There is injustice at the Justice Department, ladies and gentlemen, as there is extensive injustice in our justice system nationwide. We have rightly focused on one major aspect of that injustice in recent weeks—since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement officers.
"But as we prepare to address that injustice on the House floor—in the single largest and most sweeping package of police reforms in our country’s history—I cannot help but notice that the members who tend to shout loudest about hoaxes and witch hunts also stand in opposition to these commonsense reforms.
"Ask yourselves, what are you saying to the American people when your commitment to justice means that you will stand up for Flynn and Stone and Barr but go no further?
"No, Mr. Barr’s work at the Department of Justice has nothing to do with correcting injustice. He is the President’s fixer. 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.
"And, to be clear, there are plenty of reasons to be angry with Attorney General Barr.
"It is unacceptable that he would order the Antitrust Division to initiate pretextual investigations into industries that he and the President do not like, simply because they do not like them. Mr. Elias will testify to that abuse today.
"It is dangerous and misguided for him to threaten frivolous litigation against state and local officials doing their best to contain the COVID-19 epidemic in their communities. It is simply irresponsible for him to do so in the total absence of guidance from the White House or leadership from the President.
"And it is outrageous that Mr. Barr occupied this city with a federal police force outfitted in paramilitary gear, and then turned that force on peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square—spraying them with tear gas and physically knocking them back—all to arrange for an awkward photo op for President Trump. The images from that day are so disturbing that we cannot blame Mr. Barr for trying to avoid responsibility for his role in the event in the days since.
"But please understand that these are merely the symptoms of an underlying disease. The sickness that we must address is Mr. Barr’s use of the Department of Justice as a weapon to serve the President’s petty, private interests. The cancer that we must root out is his decision to place the President’s interests above those of the American people.
"Our witnesses today will speak to the extremes to which Mr. Barr has reached to carry out the President’s bidding. I am especially grateful to Mr. Elias and Mr. Zelinsky—who are current Department employees—for their bravery in appearing before the Committee. This Administration has a record of witness intimidation, and I have no doubt that they will try to exact a price for your testimony—but you are patriots, and you have done your duty here today.
"It gives me hope for what may come at the Department of Justice when Bill Barr is finally removed."I thank the witnesses for being here today, and I look forward to your testimony."
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