NYC Bar Association Asks Congress to Investigate AG Barr’s Conduct, Alleges Bias

January 9, 2020 Updated: January 21, 2020

An advocacy legal group in New York has asked Congress to investigate U.S. Attorney General William Barr, alleging that his recent actions and comments “threatens public confidence in the fair and impartial administration of justice.”

The New York City Bar Association, which has over 24,000 members, said on Thursday that it had sent a letter (pdf) to Congress urging them to “to commence formal inquiries into a pattern of conduct” by the attorney general that they claim positions the Department of Justice (DOJ) as “political partisans willing to use the levers of government to empower certain groups over others.”

The group lists public statements Barr made in the latter half of 2019, claiming the comments were “troubling” and inconsistent with the role of the country’s top law enforcement officer.

They accused Barr of violating the “bedrock obligations for government lawyers” to “avoid even the appearance of partiality and impropriety, and to avoid manifesting bias, prejudice, or partisanship in the exercise of official responsibilities.”

Among the examples cited by the group was a speech Barr made in October 2019 at the University of Notre Dame where he raised concerns over the increase in secularism and its impact on society. Barr warned in the speech that the “forces of secularism” had caused a moral upheaval, was stifling opposing views, and was threatening religion and traditional norms.

In their letter, the group accused the attorney general of launching “a partisan attack” against “‘so-called progressives’ for supposedly waging a ‘campaign to destroy the traditional moral order.'”

They also took issue with a speech he made in early December 2019 during a Justice Department award ceremony where he said law enforcement officers and deputies deserve more respect and support from Americans for their sacrifice and service. The group, in particular, had issues with one of his comments where he said if communities don’t show that support and respect “they may find themselves without the police protection they need.” He did not identify which communities would lose protection and how they would lose it in his speech.

The group also raised concerns over a television interview conducted on Dec. 10, 2019, where Barr disputed DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s findings, released in a report the day before, that the FBI wasn’t acting on an improper political motivation when it surveilled Trump’s campaign staffer Carter Page for about a year.

During that interview, he said the bureau may have acted in “bad faith” when it launched the investigation against President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, saying that there were “gross abuses … and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.”

Barr has appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to run a separate investigation, which has been upgraded into a criminal probe, into the origins of the Russia investigation.

The association had previously asked Barr to recuse himself from a DOJ review of Ukraine-related matters, which is at the center of the impeachment against the president.

The Justice Department declined our request to comment on the group’s claims.

Over the past several months, critics have accused Barr of turning the DOJ into a political weapon and siding with President Donald Trump instead of representing the country.

In an interview with CBS News in May last year, Barr responded to the criticism saying that he thinks the “hyper-partisan age” that Americans live in has caused people to “no longer really pay attention to the substance of what is said” but “only to who says it and what side they’re on and what its political ramifications are.”

“The Department of Justice is all about the law, the facts, and the substance and I’m going to make the decisions based on the law and the facts. And I realize that is in tension with the political climate we live in because people are more interested in getting their way politically, so I think it just goes with the territory of being the attorney general in a hyper-partisan period of time,” he added.

Follow Janita on Twitter: @janitakan