WASHINGTON — The Justice Department will consider taking legal action against governors who continue to impose stringent rules for dealing with the coronavirus that infringe on constitutional rights once the crisis subsides in their states, Attorney General William Barr said.

Blunt means to deal with the pandemic, such as stay-at-home orders and directives shutting down businesses, are justified up to a point, Barr said in an interview Tuesday on “The Hugh Hewitt Show.” Eventually, though, states should move to more targeted measures, Barr said. He said he supports the approach laid out by President Donald Trump.

“We have to give businesses more freedom to operate in a way that’s reasonably safe,” Barr said. “To the extent that governors don’t and impinge on either civil rights or on the national commerce — our common market that we have here — then we’ll have to address that.”

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Barr’s comments come as the Trump administration and states are struggling — and at times fighting with each other — over the best approach to deal with the crisis. Trump has stoked tensions with some Democratic governors who are dealing with protests against stringent social distancing rules, even as his administration backs guidelines that call for states to open up gradually.

Trump tweeted last week that his supporters should “liberate” Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia — three states with Democratic governors and strict stay-at-home orders. The move came just a day after Trump outlined the return-to-work guidelines contingent on states meeting specific benchmarks on testing and a decline in COVID-19 cases.

As Trump’s public support over his handling of the crisis weakens, he and his top aides are increasingly looking at ways to move on.

“These are very, very burdensome impingements on liberty, and we adopted them, we have to remember, for the limited purpose of slowing down the spread, that is bending the curve,” Barr said. “We didn’t adopt them as the comprehensive way of dealing with this disease.”

“You can’t just keep on feeding the patient chemotherapy and say well, we’re killing the cancer, because we were getting to the point where we’re killing the patient,” Barr said. “And now is the time that we have to start looking ahead and adjusting to more targeted therapies.”


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(Anika Varty / The Seattle Times)

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