Washington — Attorney General William Barr compared stay-at-home orders issued by governors to mitigate the spread of coronavirus to slavery, and dismissed the Black Lives Matter movement as exploiting the deaths of Black people at the hands of police for political gain.
"Putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, it's the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history," Barr said during aon Wednesday.
Dozens of states issued stay-at-home orders earlier this year to help stop the spread of the virus, which has since killed nearly 200,000 Americans. President Trump has also slammed stay-at-home orders, and urged states to reopen their economies as early as the spring.
Barr also slammed the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that activists used the instances of Black people killed by law enforcement as "props."
"As a proposition, who can quarrel with the proposition 'Black lives matter'? But they're not interested in Black lives, they're interested in props. A small number of Blacks that are killed by police during conflict with police, usually less than a dozen a year who they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda," Barr said.
The country has been roiled with protests in recent months after the high-profile killings of Black Americans at the hands of police officers. Police departments are not required to report comprehensive data on police killings, but researchers have compiled statistics showing Black Americans are more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than White people. One study published in 2018 found that Black men are roughly 3.5 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than White men. Another study released in 2019 found that one in 1,000 Black men in the U.S. can expect to die at the hands of police over the course of their lifetimes.
Barr's comments echo the sentiments of Mr. Trump, who appeared to bristle duringearlier this year when asked why Black Americans are "still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country."
"So are White people. So are White people. What a terrible question to ask. So are White people," Mr. Trump told CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge in July.
In another controversial comment on Wednesday, Barr defended his involvement in high-profile Justice Department cases.
"One of the more annoying things that I hear and face — and this has been going on for decades — this strange idea that political officials interfere in investigations or in cases. And I'm saying, what do you mean by interfere? Under law, all prosecutorial power is vested in the attorney general," Barr said. "As I say to FBI agents, whose agent do you think you are? I don't say this in a pompous way, but that is the chain of authority and legitimacy in the Department Of Justice. And I say, what exactly am I interfering with?"
In February, Barr overruled the sentencing recommendation for Trump confidante Roger Stone in favor of a lighter punishment, which led to the entire trial team choosing to quit before Stone's sentencing hearing. In May, he also of the criminal case against former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn.