(CNN) – Attorney General William Barr suggested on Wednesday that the calls for a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus were the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties” in history “other than slavery.”
The comments came minutes after he slammed the hundreds of Justice Department prosecutors working beneath him, equating them to preschoolers, in a defense of his own politically tuned decision making in the Trump administration.
Addressing a Constitution Day celebration hosted by Hillsdale College, the event’s host asked Barr to explain the “constitutional hurdles for forbidding a church from meeting during Covid-19.”
The question lead Barr into a four-minute response where he said state governors were using their executive powers to stifle citizens and businesses from going back to work.
“You know, putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” Barr said as a round of applause came from the crowd.
Barr has faced immense blowback from Justice Department employees and even rank-and-file attorneys in the department since the close of the Mueller investigation, for swaying cases in a way that undermines longstanding legal policies.
Wednesday, he upped the ante and equated them to preschoolers. “Name one successful organization or institution where the lowest level employees’ decisions are deemed sacrosanct, there aren’t. There aren’t any letting the most junior members set the agenda,” Barr said during his speech.
“It might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it is no way to run a federal agency,” the attorney general added.
In the speech, Barr questioned any criticism he’s received for “interfering” in cases. The attorney general has ultimate authority, he said.
“These people are agents of the attorney general. As I say, FBI agents, whose agent do you think you are?” Barr asked on Tuesday, adding that career lawyers, too, might be influenced by politics. “And I say, ‘What exactly am I interfering with?’ When you boil it right down, it’s the will of the most junior member of the organization who has some idea he wants to do something. What makes that sacrosanct?”
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