WASHINGTON – Justice Merrick B. Garland, President Biden’s candidate for attorney general, said on Monday the threat from domestic extremism was greater today than at the time of the Oklahoma bombing City in 1995, and he vowed that if confirmed, he would make federal power investigating the Capitol Riot his top priority.
Judge Garland, who led the Justice Department’s prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombing, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on the first day of his confirmation hearings that the early stages of the investigation in course on the “white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol” seemed to be aggressive and “perfectly appropriate.”
He received a largely positive reception from members of both parties on the panel, five years after Senate Republicans blocked his Supreme Court nomination by President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy created by the death of Judge Antonin. Scalia.
Justice Garland, 68, who was confirmed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1997, pledged Monday to restore the independence of a Justice Department that had underwent deep politicization under the Trump administration.
“I don’t intend to be embarrassed by anyone,” Justice Garland said. If confirmed, he said, he would maintain the principle that “the attorney general represents the public interest”.
Justice Garland has also said he will reinvigorate the department’s civil rights division as America suffers a painful and destabilizing toll with systemic racism.
“Communities of color and other minorities continue to face discrimination in housing, education, employment and the criminal justice system,” Justice Garland said in his opening remarks. But he said he did not support the call by some on the left, emerging from this summer’s civil rights protests, to dispel the police.
The Trump administration has worked to reduce civil rights protections for transgender people and minorities. It also prohibits policies aimed at addressing systemic racism, sexism, homophobia and other implicit prejudices.
“I consider my responsibilities for the civil rights division high on my list of top priorities,” Justice Garland said.
Judge Garland answered questions on a wide range of additional topics, including criminal justice reform, antitrust cases, the power of big tech companies, congressional oversight and departmental morale.
Discussing the threat of domestic terrorism, Justice Garland said, “We are going through a more dangerous time than we have faced in Oklahoma City.”
He called the attack on Capitol Hill “the most heinous attack on democratic processes I have ever seen, and the one I never expected to see in my lifetime.”
In addition to an immediate briefing on the investigation, he said he would “give career prosecutors who work in this way 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, any resources they may need.”
Tackling extremism is “at the heart” of the Justice Department’s mission and has often overlapped with its anti-systemic racism mission, as with its fight against the Ku Klux Klan, Judge Garland said.
But the hearing also recalled how politics loom over so many high-profile issues that Judge Garland will face if the full Senate confirms, especially as the Capitol Riots investigation is affecting members. Mr. Trump’s inner circle and more defendants. say they acted on former President Donald J. Trump’s order to prevent Mr. Biden from taking office.
Asked by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, whether the Capitol Riot investigation should prosecute people “upstream” from those who violated the building, including “the backers, the organizers, the leaders or helpers and accomplices who were not present in the Capitol on January 6, replied Judge Garland, we will pursue these leads wherever they take us.
Republicans have mainly focused on two politically charged investigations from the Trump era: a federal tax investigation into Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and the work of special advocate John H. Durham, to determine whether the Obama-era officials made a mistake in 2016 when they investigated those responsible for the Trump campaign and their ties to Russia.
Justice Garland said he did not discuss the Hunter Biden case with the President and reiterated that the Justice Department will make the final decisions regarding investigations and prosecutions.
“This investigation was carried out quietly, and not publicly, as all investigations should be,” he said. He noted that the US lawyer appointed by Trump in Delaware had been asked to stay and oversee the Hunter Biden investigation.
“I have absolutely no reason to doubt that this is the right decision,” he said.
Responding to a question about Mr. Durham’s investigation, Justice Garland hinted that he would let the investigation unfold, but avoided making explicit promises about how he would handle it.
“I have no reason – from what I know now, which is really very little – to make a decision,” Justice Garland said. “I have no reason to believe he shouldn’t stay put,” he said of Mr Durham.
Regarding the disclosure of any report from Mr. Durham, he added: “I should however speak with Mr. Durham and understand the nature of what he did and the nature of the report.”
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the leading Republican on the committee, said he would not “object” to responses to the Durham inquiry which were “not as straightforward” as he claimed. wished “because I think you are an honorable person.” “
Justice Garland has strong legal credentials, a reputation as a moderate, and a long history of service to the Department of Justice. After serving as a clerk for Judge William J. Brennan Jr., he worked as a federal prosecutor for the US Attorney’s Office in Washington under President George HW Bush and was chosen by Jamie Gorelick, Deputy Attorney General to President Bill Clinton, to serve as his senior deputy.
In addition to Oklahoma City, Justice Garland has overseen high-profile cases such as Theodore J. When Mr. Obama appointed him to the Supreme Court in 2016, he was widely described as a moderate.
Key Republicans, including committee member Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and minority leader Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have said they will support Judge Garland to become Mr Biden’s attorney general.
Democrats presented him on Monday as the necessary antidote to four years in which Mr. Trump treated Justice Department investigators as enemies to be crushed or players to be used to attack political enemies and protect allies, all the more so since he sought to thwart and defeat the investigation into Russia.
Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in his opening remarks that “the misdeeds of Trump’s Justice Department have brought this nation to the brink” and that Judge Garland is said to have need to “restore the faith of the American people in the rule of law and deliver equal justice.” “
Asked about Mr. Trump’s statement, “I have the absolute right to do whatever I want to do with the Department of Justice,” Justice Garland said the President “is constrained by the Constitution” and that anyway Mr. Biden had pledged not to interfere with the work of the department.
Justice Garland’s response drew an implicit contrast to William P. Barr, who served under Mr. Trump as attorney general for almost two years and appeared to see his role as serving the president’s interests much more than other prosecutors. post-Watergate generals.
“Decisions will be made by the ministry itself and directed by the attorney general,” he said, “without regard to partisanship, without regard to the power of the perpetrator or the lack of power, to the influence of the author or lack of influence. “
Judge Garland was for the most part measured and even-tempered, but he became moved when he described his family’s flight from anti-Semitism and persecution in Eastern Europe and asylum in America.
“The country welcomed us – and protected us,” he said, his voice still. “I feel an obligation to the country to repay. It’s the best and the best use of my own skill set to pay off. And so I really want to be the kind of attorney general that you say I could become.
Justice Garland has pledged to cooperate with a Congressional inquiry into Trump’s Justice Department’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration that has led to the separation of many parents from their families. children.
“I think the policy was shameful,” Justice Garland said. “I can’t imagine anything worse than tearing parents apart from their children. And we will provide all the cooperation we possibly can. “