Attorney General Bill Barr urged federal prosecutors last week to consider charging protesters who committed violent offenses with sedition, The New York Times reports.
Barr’s suggestion “alarmed” some of the prosecutors on the call, according to the report.
Barr told prosecutors that they needed to crack down on looting and violence, mentioning sedition as one of several possible charges prosecutors could bring. Others included assaulting a federal officer, rioting, use of explosives, and racketeering.
“If Barr was saying that if you have a sedition case, then bring it, that is fine,” former federal prosecutor Chuck Rosenberg told the Times. “But if he is urging people to stretch to bring one, that is deeply dangerous.”
Barr argued during a speech on Wednesday that the executive branch has “virtually unchecked discretion” in decided whether to prosecute cases.
“The power to execute and enforce the law is an executive function altogether,” he said. “That means discretion is invested in the executive to determine when to exercise the prosecutorial power.”
Barr asked about charging Seattle Mayor:
Barr also asked the DOJ’s civil rights division to consider criminal charges for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan for allowing protesters to erect an “autonomous zone” in the city’s downtown for weeks, which the DOJ denied.
Durkan severely criticized Trump and slammed the administration for sending federal agents into the city, warning that it would exacerbate tensions.
“The attorney general seems personally, deeply offended by the autonomous zone and wants someone to pay for it,” Rosenberg said. “If the people of Seattle are personally offended, they have political recourse. There is no reason to try to stretch a criminal statute to cover the conduct.”
Durkan says Barr’s suggestion “chilling”:
"The Department of Justice cannot become a political weapon operated at the behest of the President to target those who have spoken out against this administration's actions," Durkan, who is a former US attorney herself, said in a statement. "That is an act of tyranny, not of democracy."
"Ultimately, this is not a story about me. It is about how this President and his Attorney General are willing to subvert the law and use the Department of Justice for political purposes," she added. "It is particularly egregious to try to use the civil rights laws to investigate, intimidate, or deter those that are fighting for civil rights in our country."