US Attorney General William Barr has fended off attacks in the Democratic-led House of Representatives, denying accusations he is doing President Donald Trump's bidding by intervening in high-profile cases and sending federal agents into US cities.
He testified to the House Judiciary Committee for the first time since taking office in February 2019 as the Justice Department faces criticism for sending federal officers to forcibly disperse anti-racism protesters in Portland and Washington, DC.
Committee Democrats repeatedly interrupted Barr as he spoke, often running out the clock before he could answer their questions and drawing criticism from Trump's fellow Republicans, who responded by letting him address the Democrats' criticism during their own allotted time to ask questions - a tactic that made it easier for Barr to stay on message.
During an exchange about the deployment of federal agents to Portland, Oregon, where they have clashed nightly with anti-racism demonstrators who have also set fires and thrown objects, Barr responded, "We cannot just stand aside and watch the federal courthouse be destroyed."
Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler opened the hearing by telling Barr: "Your tenure is marked by a persistent war against the department's professional core in an apparent effort to secure favours for the president."
Barr pushed back, saying, "I feel complete freedom to do what I feel is right."
Barr rejected Nadler's assertion the deployment of federal agents to US cities was an effort to boost Trump's re-election campaign. Barr also denied taking actions to help Trump associates, saying they do not deserve special breaks but also should not be treated more harshly than other defendants.
The department's internal watchdog launched probes last week into federal involvement in the Portland and Washington, DC, protests.
Widespread and mostly peaceful protests against racial bias and police brutality have taken place in the United States since May 25 when George Floyd, a Black man died under the knee of a white officer.
Barr has highlighted the arson and violence at some protests, blaming them primarily on far-left "antifa" elements - an assertion that is heavily disputed - and urging federal prosecutors to bring criminal charges whenever possible.