Hundreds of ex-US officials urge review of Barr’s role in protest crackdown

Hundreds of former justice department officials have called for an internal review of attorney general William Barr’s handling of street protests in recent weeks, including Barr’s role in a crackdown on peaceful demonstrators outside the White House earlier this month.

Nearly 1,300 former department of justice (DoJ) employees signed a letter published on Medium and addressed to the department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz.

“We are asking you to immediately open and conduct an investigation of the full scope of the attorney general’s and the DOJ’s role in these events,” the letter said. “The rule of law, the maintenance of the department’s integrity, and the very safety of our citizens demand nothing less.”

The former officials expressed concern about Barr’s role in using gas and rubber bullets to clear protesters outside the White House on 1 June.

“In particular, we are disturbed by Attorney General Barr’s possible role in ordering law enforcement personnel to suppress a peaceful domestic protest in Lafayette Square on June 1 2020, for the purpose of enabling President Trump to walk across the street from the White House and stage a photo op at St John’s Church, a politically motivated event in which Attorney General Barr participated,” the letter said.

Barr has disputed reports that he personally ordered the crackdown on the protesters, telling the Associated Press: “My attitude was: get it done. But I didn’t say, ‘Go do it’.”

But Barr was spotted reviewing security arrangements outside the White House shortly before the crackdown began, and Trump’s press secretary said flatly on Monday: “It was AG Barr who made the decision.”

The signatories of the justice department letter included veterans of both Democratic and Republican administrations.

“We are also disturbed by the attorney general’s deployment of federal law enforcement officers throughout the country, and especially within the District of Columbia, to participate in quelling lawful first amendment activity,” the letter said.

“If the attorney general issued orders to officers of a variety of federal agencies, including US Secret Service, US park police, DC national guard, and US military police, it is unclear under what purported authority he did so.” 

The former officials said that crackdowns on peaceful protesters violated free speech and press protections, the right to assemble, and prohibitions on unreasonable seizures.

The letter concluded: “If the attorney general or any other DOJ employee has directly participated in actions that have deprived Americans of their constitutional rights or that physically injured Americans lawfully exercising their rights, that would be misconduct of the utmost seriousness, the details of which must be shared with the American people.”

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