Say what you will about Mr. Barr, but he is damn good in an adversarial interview like this one. Here is the transcript of the interview:
BRENNAN: Earlier this morning I went to the Justice Department to speak with Attorney General Bill Barr. In his role as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, he used the full force of the federal government, including agents from the FBI, ATF, Border Patrol, Bureau of Prisons and the Drug Enforcement Administration to assist the National Guard and local police in an effort to end the violence and looting that happened earlier in the week in Washington. Sixteen hundred active-duty troops were also put on standby.
BRENNAN: A senior administration official told our CBS’ David Martin, that in a meeting at the White House on Monday morning, the President demanded that ten thousand active-duty troops be ordered into American streets. Is that accurate?
BARR: No, that’s completely false. That’s completely false. Sunday night–
BRENNAN: The President did not demand that?
BARR: No, he did not demand that.
BRENNAN: What happened?
BARR: I came over on– on Monday morning for a meeting. The night before had been the most violent, as one of the police officials told us, the DC police, it was the most violent day in Washington in thirty years, something that the media has not done a very good job of covering. And there had been a– a riot right along Lafayette Park. I was called over and asked if I would coordinate federal civil agencies and that the Defense Department would provide whatever support I needed or we needed to protect federal property federal– at the White House, federal personnel. The decision was made to have at the ready and on hand in the vicinity some regular troops. But everyone agreed that the use of regular troops as a last resort and that as long as matters can be controlled with other resources, they should be. I felt, and the Secretary of Defense felt, we had adequate resources and wouldn’t need to use federal troops. But in case we did we wanted them nearby.
BRENNAN: So what–
BARR: There was never– the President never asked or suggested that we needed to deploy regular troops at that point. It’s been done from time to time in our history. We try to avoid it and I’m happy that we were able to avoid it on this occasion.
BRENNAN: So there were active duty troops put on standby. They were not deployed. The 82nd Airborne was put on standby–
BARR: So the–
BRENNAN: –but not sent into the streets.
BARR: Some 82nd Airborne military police [NOT the 82nd Airborne division, as Brennan dishonestly implied] were brought into the area. But they were not brought into DC.
BRENNAN: Right. So what part– I just want to make sure that we’re precise here, what part of that conversation, as it’s been relayed to CBS and to other news organizations, is false? Did the President not demand active duty troops? Did–
BARR: Well, your question to me just a moment ago was, did he demand them on the streets, did he demand them in DC? No, we had them on standby in case they were needed.
BRENNAN: Right. Which they were put on standby. They were not deployed.
BRENNAN: So in our reporting, we were also told that you, the Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and General Milley, all opposed the idea of actually deploying these active-duty troops onto the streets. Is that accurate?
BARR: I think our position was common, which was that they should only be– be deployed if– as a last resort and that we didn’t think we would need them. Every– I think everyone was on the same page.
BRENNAN: Do you think that the President has the authority to unilaterally send in active-duty troops if the governors oppose it?
BARR: Oh, absolutely. The– under the anti-Insurrection Act, the– the President can use regular troops to suppress rioting. The Confederate– the Confederacy in our country opposed the use of federal troops to restore order and suppress an insurrection. So the federal government sometimes doesn’t listen to governors in certain circumstances.
BRENNAN: The last time that this has happened was the L.A. riots in 1992 when the governor of California asked for active-duty troops.
BARR: That’s correct.
BRENNAN: You’re saying your understanding and the law, as you interpret it and would support is that the President has the ability to put active-duty troops on American streets, even if governors object?
BARR: It’s happened numerous times. And the answer to that is yes.
BRENNAN: You would support that?
BARR: Well, it depends on the circumstances. I was involved in the L.A. riots and the Rodney King matter. We tried to use non-military forces. I sent two thousand federal law enforcement officers out there in one day, but it was overwhelming. And the National Guard couldn’t handle it and Governor Pete Wilson asked for federal troops.
BRENNAN: And he asked for them.
BRENNAN: That’s a key distinction.
BARR: Or he approved the use of federal troops, but those troops were on standby as well.
BRENNAN: Because I think a number of people would be surprised to hear and it’s been reported that you opposed sending in active duty troops on principle. You’re saying you would support it?
BARR: As a last resort.
BRENNAN: So in this Monday meeting with the President, when the Defense Secretary, who has now publicly said that he opposed using the Insurrection Act, you said what to the President?
BARR: I don’t think the Secretary of Defense said he opposed it. I think he said that it was a last resort; he didn’t think it was necessary. I think we all agree that it’s a last resort, but it’s, ultimately, the President’s decision. The– the reporting is completely false on this.
BRENNAN: Do you believe there is systemic racism in law enforcement?
BARR: I think there’s racism in the United States still but I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist. I understand the– the distrust, however, of the African-American community given the history in this country. I think we have to recognize that for most of our history, our institutions were explicitly racist. Since the 1960s, I think we’ve been in a phase of reforming our institutions and making sure that they’re in sync with our laws and aren’t fighting a rearguard action to impose inequities.
BRENNAN: And you think that’s working?
BARR: I think– I think the reform is a difficult task, but I think it is working and progress has been made. I think one of the best examples is the military. The military used to be explicitly racist institution. And now I think it’s in the vanguard of– of bringing the races together and providing equal opportunity. I think law enforcement has been going through the same process.
BRENNAN: Do you think there should be some tweaking of the rules, reduced immunity to go after some of the bad cops?
BARR: I don’t think you need to reduce immunity to– to go after the bad cops, because that would result certainly in– in police pulling back. It’s, you know, policing is the toughest job in the country. And I– and I, frankly, think that we have generally the vast, overwhelming majority of police are good people. They’re civic-minded people who believe in serving the public. They do so bravely. They do so righteously.
BRENNAN: But the bad cops.
BARR: I– I think that there are instances of bad cops. And I think we have to be careful about automatically assuming that the actions of an individual necessarily mean that their organization is rotten. All organizations have people who engage in misconduct, and you sometimes have to be careful as to when you ascribe that to the whole organization and when it really is some errant member who isn’t following the rules.
BRENNAN: But doesn’t the opening the pattern-or-practice investigation into a place like Minneapolis where there are questions about the broader issues with policing, it wasn’t just the one officer, wouldn’t that answer that question?
BARR: Well, that’s exactly the reaction that I think has been a problem in the past, which is it just, again, just reacting to this incident by immediately putting the department under investigation doesn’t necessarily result in– in improving the situation. But I would say that in the first instance, the governor has announced an investigation of the police department. The governor, Governor Walz, a Democratic governor, is investigating the police department. The attorney general of– of Minnesota is looking into the police department. We stand ready to act if we think it’s necessary. But I don’t think necessarily starting a– a pattern-or-practice investigation at this stage is warranted. Another thing is we have to look at some of the evidence. I mean, people, you know, the fact is that the criminal justice system at both the state and the federal level moved instantaneously on this. And we moved quickly with our investigation. But we still have to look into what kind of use of force policies are used in that department, what the training has been and things like that. That’s not something we can do overnight.
BRENNAN: I want to ask you about some of the events of the week. On Monday, Lafayette Park was cleared of protesters. You’ve spoken about this. The federal agents who were there report up to you. Did you think it was appropriate for them to use smoke bombs, tear gas, pepper balls, projectiles at what appeared to be peaceful protesters?
BARR: They were not peaceful protesters. And that’s one of the big lies that the– the media is– seems to be perpetuating at this point.
BRENNAN: Three of my CBS colleagues were there. We talked to them.
BRENNAN: They did not hear warnings. They did not see protesters–
BARR: There were three warnings.
BRENNAN: –throwing anything.
BARR: There were three warnings given. But– but let’s get back to why we took that action. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, okay, there were violent riots in– at Lafayette Park where the park police were under constant attack at the– behind their bike rack fences. On Sunday, things reached a crescendo. The officers were pummeled with bricks. Crowbars were used to pry up the pavers at the park and they were hurled at police. There were fires set in not only St. John’s Church, but a historic building at Lafayette was burned down.
BRENNAN: These were things that looters did. [Note the effort to pretend that the looters were not a big part of the protest itself.]
BARR: Not looters, these were– these were the– the violent rioters who were dominated Lafayette Park.
BRENNAN: But what I’m asking about–
BARR: They broke into the Treasury Department-–
BRENNAN: –on Monday when it was a peaceful protest.
BARR: I’m going to– let me– let me get to this, because this has been totally obscured by the media. They broke into the Treasury Department, and they were injuring police. That night–
BRENNAN: Sunday night?
BARR: Sunday night, the park police prepared a plan to clear H Street and put a– a larger perimeter around the White House so they could build a more permanent fence on Lafayette.
BRENNAN: This is something you approved on Sunday night?
BARR: No. The Park Police on their own on– on Sunday night determined this was the proper approach. When I came in Monday, it was clear to me that we did have to increase the perimeter on that side of Lafayette Park and push it out one block. That decision was made by me in the morning. It was communicated to all the police agencies, including the Metropolitan Police at 2:00 PM that day. The– the effort was to move the perimeter one block and it had to be done when we had enough people in place to achieve that. And that decision, as I say, was communicated to the police at 2:00 PM. The operation was run by the Park Police.
BARR: The Park Police was facing what they considered to be a very rowdy and a non-compliant crowd. And there were projectiles being hurled at the police. And at that point, it was not to respond–
BRENNAN: On Monday, you’re saying there were projectiles–
BARR: On Monday, yes, there were.
BRENNAN: As I’m saying, three of my colleagues were there.
BRENNAN: They did not see projectiles being thrown–
BARR: I was there.
BRENNAN: –when that happened.
BARR: I was there. They were thrown. I saw them thrown.
BRENNAN: And you believe that what the Park Police did using tear gas and projectiles was appropriate?
BARR: Here’s– here’s what the media is missing. This was not an operation to respond to that particular crowd. It was an operation to move the perimeter one block.
BRENNAN: And the methods they used you think were appropriate, is that what you’re saying?
BARR: When they met resistance, yes. They announced three times. They didn’t move. By the way, there was no tear gas used. The tear gas was used Sunday when they had to clear H Street to allow the fire department to come in to save St. John’s Church. That’s when tear gas was used.
BRENNAN: There were chemical irritants the Park Police has said–
BARR: No, they were not chemical irritants. Pepper spray is not a chemical irritant. It’s not chemical.
BRENNAN: Pepper spray, you’re saying is what was used–
BARR: Pepper balls. Pepper balls.
BRENNAN: Right, and you believe that was appropriate. What I want to show you is what a lot of people at home who were watching this on television saw and their perception of events. I want you to see what the public at home saw.
BRENNAN: So while the President is saying that he appreciates peaceful protest, around the same time, this crowd–
BARR: Well, six minutes– six minutes difference there I would say.
BRENNAN: Right, around the same time the area is being cleared of what appear to be peaceful protesters using some force. And after the speech is finished, the President then walked out of the White House to the same area where the protesters had been and stands for photo op in front of the church where the protesters had been. These events look very connected to people at home. In an environment where the broader debate is about heavy-handed use of force and law enforcement, was that the right message for Americans to be receiving?
BARR: Well, the message is sometimes communicated by the media. I didn’t see any video being played on the media of what was happening Friday, Saturday, and Sunday–
BRENNAN: But– but this confluence of events–
BARR: All I heard– all I heard was comments about how peaceful protesters were. I didn’t hear about the fact that there were hundred and fifty law enforcement officers injured and many taken to the hospital with concussions. So it wasn’t a peaceful protest. We had to get control over Lafayette Park, and we had to do it as soon as we were able to do that.
BRENNAN: So you understand how these events appear connected? The timing of this–
BARR: Well, it’s the job of the media to tell the truth. They were not connected.
BRENNAN: Well, this is what I’m asking you. Did you know when you gave the green light for these actions to be taken that the President was going to be going in that very same area for a photo op?
BARR: I gave the green light at two o’clock. Obviously, I didn’t know that the President was going to be speaking later that day.
BRENNAN: You had no idea?
BARR: No. No, I did not.
BRENNAN: Do you see–
BARR: The go ahead was given at two o’clock. And to do it as soon as we were able to do it, to move the perimeter from– from H Street to I Street.
BRENNAN: We’re both Catholic. I know you’re observant. You’re a devout Catholic. Archbishop Gregory of Washington condemned what happened by gassing peaceful protesters.
BARR: There– there was no gas.
BRENNAN: Is– is doing– is what we saw there doing what you meant when you were on that call with governors and you said to dominate the streets?
BRENNAN: Is that what law enforcement is supposed to be taking away from this?
BARR: No, on the contrary. My point to the governors and what I was saying was that it’s important when you’re dealing with civil disturbances to have adequate forces at hand and out.
That is all.