Attorney General Barr to defend use of federal agents to quell Portland protests

FILE PHOTO: Attorney General Barr attends roundtable discussion at the White House in Washington

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General William Barr will defend the Justice Department's use of federal law enforcement agents to quell protests in Portland, Oregon, in congressional testimony on Tuesday, saying attacks on the federal courthouse there represent "an assault on the government of the United States."

"The most basic responsibility of government is to ensure the rule of law, so that people can live their lives safely and without fear. The Justice Department will continue working to meet that solemn responsibility," Barr said in prepared remarks before the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

Tuesday will mark the first time that Barr has appeared before the House Judiciary Committee since taking the helm of the Justice Department in February of last year.

His appearance comes as the Justice Department faces criticism for its role in sending federal officers to forcibly disperse protesters in Portland and Washington, D.C.

Barr has faced heavy scrutiny from Democrats since the beginning of his tenure, starting with his decision to selectively release a summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The committee launched an inquiry recently into whether he was politicizing the department after he intervened in several high-profile criminal cases involving Trump's political allies in ways that benefited them - including scaling back a sentencing recommendation for Trump's friend Roger Stone and seeking to drop the criminal case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Barr will defend his actions on Tuesday, saying: "The president has not attempted to interfere in these decisions."

He will also accuse Democrats of falsely "conjuring up a narrative that I am simply the president’s factotum who disposes of criminal cases according to his instructions."

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)