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EXCLUSIVE: Attorney General William Barr on Thursday denied reports that the Department of Justice is seeking new emergency powers for itself amid the coronavirus outbreak that would suspend certain rights in criminal matters and potentially detain people indefinitely without trial, saying, “It's cockamamie nonsense.”
"It's a gross mischaracterization," Barr told Fox News during a telephone interview.
The Justice Department has faced a backlash from some lawmakers after news reports first surfaced this week saying the department was seeking to suspend certain rights: Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., tweeted, “More power to the so-called Attorney General? PASS.” Some Republicans pushed back too, including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who simply tweeted, “OVER MY DEAD BODY.”
DOJ RESPONDS TO UPROAR OVER REQUEST FOR 'EMERGENCY POWERS' DURING CORONAVIRUS
But Barr said Thursday the Department of Justice never proposed any expansion of its own power, but rather was asked by lawmakers on Capitol Hill for suggestions about giving judges more flexibility to adjust schedules while many courts are closing or scaling back operations during the coronavirus crisis.
"The whole legal system is rife with deadlines," Barr said. “You have so many days to appeal a decision and so on.”
However, many of these schedules have now been thrown into limbo as the nation grapples with Covid-19 emergency.
Main Justice suggested "augmenting the power of the chief judge in each district to come up with a consistent approach... individual judges will decide this and not the Department of Justice,” Barr told Fox News.
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The attorney general also assured the American public that law enforcement is still "full throttle" and "focused on remaining fully engaged in their mission while at the same time protecting the workforce as best they can."
There have been reports of law enforcement officials testing positive for coronavirus across the country and Barr confirmed that dynamic. "We are seeing high infection rates among law enforcement officials because they're out there doing their jobs. We can deal with anything that comes our way."
The attorney general also urged the public to help police and other law enforcement agents across the country, "Law enforcement is a very tough job in the best of times and now it's a lot tougher. It's important that the public respect and support police and sheriffs deputies during this difficult time."