Is AG Barr abusing his power suggesting Seattle's mayor be charged?


Fact Box

  • William Barr was confirmed as the 85th Attorney General of the US Senate on February 14, 2019. He is one of only two people in the US to serve twice in the role. 
  • Jenny Durkan is the 56th Mayor of Seattle. She was sworn into office on November 28, 2017, and has pledged her career to lowering housing costs, helping the homelessness, changing college tuition, and reforming the police department. 
  • Barr suggested charging the Democratic mayor over allowing residents to create a police-free protest zone for a few weeks this summer during demonstrations over police brutality and racial injustice.
  • On Wednesday, Mayor Durkan claimed that Attorney General Barr’s potential charges against her were 'chilling and the latest abuse of power from the Trump administration.'

Sharon (No)

Media reports suggest US Attorney General William Barr asked the Justice Department's civil rights division about the potential to press charges against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan for her actions concerning the Capitol Hill Protest Zone (CHOP). 'Chilling' is the word Durkan used to describe what she incorrectly termed 'an abuse of power.' Indeed, what is actually chilling is her dereliction of duty. And, no—legal consequences for that dereliction would not at all be an abuse of power.

By her own admission, Durkan, who is currently appealing to the state's highest court to fight recall efforts, is sworn to 'to protect the Constitution and the rule of law.' She's blatantly failed to protect either of those things. Arson, looting, violence, shootings, and the destruction of property—both private and municipal—are crimes. Barr is absolutely correct to question the violation of the residents' civil rights and business owners impacted by CHOP.

The citizens of the city will feel the impact of Durkan's failure to act decisively to halt the crimes taking place under the guise of protest for a long time to come. The city faces multiple lawsuits, including two wrongful death suits and a lawsuit by CHOP zone residents and businesses. If these suits are successful, who is going to pay the awarded damages? Not Durkan, not city officials, but the same taxpayers who were deprived of protection and safety under Durkan's actions, or rather, inaction. As Durkan and the city council are undeniably responsible for the financial losses, death and destruction from unquelled civil unrest, they must be held accountable.

Elizabeth (Yes)

If, as the NYT claims, AG Barr suggested prosecutors at the Justice Department should explore the option of pressing charges against Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan, that is an abuse of power. The alleged comments were part of a larger conversation in which sedition charges against protesters were also discussed.

Bringing charges against Durkan would set a terrible precedent. It would have a chilling effect on state justice and state autonomy if Barr did make this suggestion. Given there were no federal properties damaged due to Seattle's ill-conceived CHOP, there are no grounds for the Justice Department's involvement. While some may argue in favor of the current administration taking action, that is a double-edged sword. It opens the door for the opposite party to do the same when they are later inevitably in power.

It not only improperly inserts the federal government into a state matter, but it would also potentially de-incentivize future political candidates across the country. The threat of charges from the Justice Dept for a perceived 'wrong move' would doubtless discourage qualified people from running for office. It would lead to more self-preservationist attitudes on elected officials (both current and future) and create valid concern about federal oversight into primarily state and local matters. As is most often the case, Seattle will undoubtedly take care of its own mess. There are already lawsuits filed against the city, and more are sure to follow. Managing unruly, even violent citizens is not included in the 'enumerated powers' of the federal government. The limits imposed by federalism are there for a reason, regardless of one's agreement or disagreement with them.

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