Garland Pressed on School Threats, Terrorism, Border at Tense Hearing
(Bloomberg) -- Republican senators unloaded a torrent of criticism against Attorney General Merrick Garland during a hearing on matters from asking the FBI to help address violent threats against local school officials to how the Justice Department is responding to terrorist dangers and border security.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Republicans sought to trip up Garland, often interrupting him from providing full answers to their questions as he struggled to respond in the lawyerly manner of his career as a prosecutor and judge.
“Right now it looks like the Department of Justice is running you,” the top Republican on the panel, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said. “The department has moved as far left as it could go. You politicized the department in ways it shouldn’t be.”
The hearing was one of the tensest public episodes for Garland, 68, since he was confirmed in March.
Grassley and Senator John Cornyn of Texas criticized Garland for issuing a memo this month directing the FBI to help address threats of violence against local school officials. The threats are coming from some parents and others who are against masking requirements during the pandemic and oppose teaching that focuses on race in American culture and history.
‘Threats of Violence’
Challenged repeatedly to rescind the memo, Garland gave no indication he would do so.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said Garland should “resign in disgrace.”
“The only thing the Justice Department is concerned about is violence and threats of violence,” Garland said, citing reports that members of some school boards say they have received “threats to kill them.”
Cornyn demanded to know if Garland had considered the chilling effect the memo might have on parents exercising their constitutional rights.
“I don’t believe it’s reasonable to read this memo as chilling anyone’s rights,” Garland said.
Cornyn shot back: “Let the record reflect the attorney general refused to answer the question.”
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina questioned Garland on the potential for terrorist groups to plot attacks in the U.S. from inside Afghanistan following the withdraw of U.S. troops.
“I don’t know whether the withdrawal will increase the risk from al-Qaeda or not,” Garland said. It was a surprising contention because U.S. military and intelligence officials have said the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan bolsters terrorist groups that could carry out attacks in the U.S. within a year.
Garland didn’t back away even as Graham frequently cut him off, saying the Justice Department is failing to address the issue urgently.
“There is a sense of urgency,” Garland responded. He said the department has strengthened the work being done by joint terrorism task forces across the country.
Graham also asked Garland what he would tell foreigners in a caravan that appears headed for the Texas border with Mexico.
“I would tell them not to come,” Garland said at first, but then said it would depend on why they’re coming.
Graham challenged Garland on the administration’s policies on border security, which is largely outside the purview of the Justice Department. The Department of Homeland Security oversees border issues.
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