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Barr under fire over comparison of virus lockdown to slavery

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr drew sharp condemnation Thursday for comparing lockdown orders during the coronavirus pandemic to slavery.

In remarks Wednesday night at an event hosted by downstate Hillsdale College, Barr had called the lockdown orders the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history” since slavery.

His comments, at a northern Virginia event hosted by the school, also criticized his own prosecutors for behaving as “headhunters” in their pursuit of prominent targets and for using the weight of the criminal justice system to launch what he said were “ill-conceived” political probes.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the No. 3 House Democratic leader, told CNN that Barr’s remarks were “the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful things I’ve ever heard” because they wrongly equated human bondage with a measure aimed at saving lives.

“Slavery was not about saving lives. It was about devaluing lives,” Clyburn said. “This pandemic is a threat to human life.”

It’s not the first time Barr has condemned stay-at-home orders.

He has previously said that some orders were ” disturbingly close to house arrest,” and the Justice Department sent letters to several states warning that some of their virus-related restrictions might be unlawful. Prosecutors also filed statements of interest in several civil cases challenging some of the restrictions.

Barr has faced scrutiny for overruling the decisions of Justice Department prosecutors who work for him, including in criminal cases involving associates of President Donald Trump. But in his remarks, he rejected the notion that prosecutors should have final say in cases that they bring. Instead, Barr described them as part of the “permanent bureaucracy” and suggested they need to be supervised, and even reined in, by politically appointed leaders accountable to the president and Congress.

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