WASHINGTON (AP) — Gathered in the small assembly hall in Little Rock, Arkansas, their chairs spaced 6 feet apart, the business leaders listen admiringly to the nation's chief law enforcement official.
They ask Attorney General William Barr about elder fraud. They ask about the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, about protection of federal monuments. They thank Barr for his devotion and service, praising him as a patriot who is working tirelessly to protect America and restore order.
But there are those who disagree. Outside, Black Lives Matter protesters approach the doors, screaming, chanting and banging on the windows. The business leaders strain to be heard over the din.
"We've been here an hour and now we all understand what you go through every day," a middle-age banker tells Barr, "so thank you."
Barr can expect this kind of praise when he appears Tuesday for the first time before the House Judiciary Committee — but only from its Republicans. To them, he is a conservative stalwart, an unflappable foe of the left and its excesses, and — most importantly — a staunch defender of President Donald Trump.
The reception from the Democrats will be closer to the hostility of Little Rock's demonstrators.
In the course of roughly 18 months in office, the 70-year-old Barr has become inexorably linked to a president with sagging popularity and uncertain reelection prospects.
His actions, including his investigation of the Russia probe, have deepened criticism of him as Trump's consigliere. Democrats have said he should be impeached and are holding hearings into the politicization of the Justice Department under his watch.
He came to the job with the reputation of an establishment Republican, and the expectation, by some, that he would temper the behavior of an impulsive president. He has not, leading some to believe he has tailored his principles to conform with Trump's views on politics and the law.
In fact, for decades Barr has made no secret of his commitment to law and order and his support for expansive presidential power. Those views have married with a president who has repeatedly tested the limits of executive authority, a pairing that has benefited both men and allowed Barr to let down his hair more than ever before.
The people who know him insist that Barr is just being Barr — that he is not motivated by ambition or anything other than the opportunity to put his beliefs into practice.
"He doesn't have anything to prove from a professional or career standpoint," said his longtime colleague and friend, attorney Chuck Cooper. "He's been at the apex of the legal profession for a long time. And so in that respect, he's unlike any other attorney general. He's already ascended to that pinnacle once before."
Only one other attorney general has served two nonconsecutive terms -- John J. Crittenden, who held the job under presidents William Henry Harrison and John Tyler and later Millard Fillmore in the 19th century. Barr's first stint was from 1991 to 1993, under President George H.W. Bush.
He first encountered Bush, then director of the CIA, when Barr was working for the intelligence agency's legislative counsel while attending law school. Bush was testifying before Congress against a proposal to notify people whose mail had been read by the CIA.
Barr would recall, in an oral history for the University of Virginia: "Someone asked him a question, and he leaned back and said, 'How the hell do I answer this one?' I whispered the answer in his ear, and he gave it, and I thought: 'Who is this guy? He listens to legal advice when it's given.'"
Clearly, he liked having the ear of the powerful.