Barr tells Congress he was ‘not aware’ of threats to Whitmer’s life

AG grilled over federal response to protests

By: - July 28, 2020 5:47 pm

Conservative protest at the Capitol against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, April 30, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) on Tuesday eviscerated Attorney General Bill Barr on his aggressive federal enforcement of Black Lives Matter protests, while allowing right-wing protests against coronavirus stay-home orders to go unchallenged.

Barr, who was questioned by a congressional committee Tuesday over his leadership at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), said he did not know that threats of violence had been made this spring against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer by armed protesters at the state Capitol.

Pramila Jayapal

“On two separate occasions, after President Trump tweeted, ‘LIBERATE MICHIGAN’ to subvert stay-home orders [that] protect the public health of people in Michigan, protesters swarmed the Michigan Capitol carrying guns, some with swastikas, Confederate flags and one even with a dark-haired doll with a noose around its neck,” Jayapal said. “Are you aware that these protesters called for the governor [Gretchen Whitmer] to be lynched, shot and beheaded?” 

“No. … I was not aware of that,” Barr responded.

“Major protests in Michigan, you’re the attorney general, and you didn’t know that the protesters called for the governor to be lynched, shot and beheaded. So obviously, you couldn’t be concerned about that,” Jayapal said.

Spokespersons for Whitmer’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Barr attempted to defend his actions by saying that “there are a lot of protests” around the country. Jayapal said it is his job to be aware of such events, especially given the nature of some of the protests like in Michigan.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee May 1, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

“There is a real discrepancy in how you react as the attorney general, the top cop in this country — when white men with swastikas storm a government building with guns, there is no need for the president to ‘activate’ you because they’re getting the president’s personal agenda done,” Jayapal said.

“But when Black people and people of color protest police brutality, systemic racism and the president’s very own lack of response to those critical issues, then you forcibly remove them with armed federal officers [and] pepper bombs because they are considered terrorists by the president,” she continued.

The hearing Tuesday is part of an investigation launched by congressional Democrats into whether Barr has allowed Trump’s politics to bleed into the DOJ.

“You take an aggressive approach to Black Lives Matter protests, but not to right-wing extremists threatening to lynch a governor, if it’s for … the president’s benefit,” Jayapal said.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.