WASHINGTON – Attorney General William Barr urged federal prosecutors in a call last week to consider filing sedition charges against violent protesters, according to a person familiar with the call.
Barr’s comments come as the Justice Department has charged hundreds of protesters amid months of nationwide civil unrest following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Federal prosecutors in Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis and other cities have charged protesters with crimes such as assaulting a federal officer, damaging government property, failure to obey a lawful order and arson.
A sedition charge is highly unusual and is brought against people who conspire to overthrow the government or to levy war against the country.
‘Criminalization of politics’:AG Barr says prosecutors become ‘headhunters’
The person who confirmed the comments to USA TODAY and is not authorized to speak publicly said Barr’s biting criticism of his own prosecutors Wednesday night was not related to any immediate concerns raised about the sedition discussion.
Speaking at Hillsdale College Wednesday night, Barr said the Justice Department’s career prosecutors – longtime employees of the agency who are not political appointees – can “sometimes become headhunters” and suggested that they have “advanced and defended hyper-aggressive extensions of the criminal law.”
The Justice Department, Barr said, has “sometimes acted more like a trade association for federal prosecutors than the administrator of a fair system of justice based on clear and sensible legal rules.”
This story will be updated.