Garland Says Capitol Riot Shows Domestic Terrorism Is Rising
(Bloomberg) -- Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general, said domestic terrorism is a greater threat than it has been for decades after the Jan. 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“We are facing a more dangerous period than we faced in Oklahoma City,” said Garland, who led the prosecution of the worst domestic attack in the U.S., the truck bombing of the federal building there in 1995.
Garland, who’s now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, appears headed for a bipartisan vote of approval in the Senate. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s top Republican, called Garland “a good pick” to lead the Justice Department, and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he’s “very inclined” to support him.
As the department pursues criminal cases stemming from the Capitol riot, Garland pledged to lead the effort. “If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 -- a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government,” he said.
Garland also signaled he’ll make decisions independently from Biden. “The president nominates the attorney general to be the lawyer -- not for any individual, but for the people of the United States,” he said.
In response to questions, Garland said he hasn’t spoken with Biden about the pending investigation into his son, Hunter Biden, and he referred to the president’s promise not to interfere in the Justice Department’s prosecutorial decisions.
“Decisions about investigations and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department,” Garland said. “That was the reason I was willing to take on this job.”
After a full day of testimony by Garland, the Judiciary panel has scheduled a hearing on Tuesday to hear from outside witnesses and then a committee vote on the nomination on Monday, March 1. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the panel’s new chairman, told reporters that the full Senate may vote on confirmation next week.
During Monday’s hearing, Republicans repeatedly pressed Garland on whether he’d let John Durham continue as special counsel looking into the origins of the investigation into former President Donald Trump’s dealings with Russia even though the department decided to remove Durham as the U.S. attorney in Connecticut. “I don’t have any reason to think that he should not remain in place,” Garland said, an answer Grassley said he wished was more emphatic.
Republicans also were upset that Garland wouldn’t give an ironclad commitment to provide Durham with all the staff, resources and time he needs to complete his work -- noting Democrats made such demands to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller during the Trump administration.
Although the nominee said he’s committed to transparency, he didn’t explicitly promise to make Durham’s final report public.
Trump openly pressed his attorneys general, Jeff Sessions and William Barr, to protect him and his associates from prosecution and to go after his political enemies.
But Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said the Justice Department actually was “politicized and weaponized” against Republicans during the Obama administration and by anti-Trump forces in the department during Trump’s term.
Cruz asserted that Garland will come under “tremendous political pressure” to abandon the Justice Department’s antitrust case against Alphabet Inc.’s Google considering the company’s political support for Biden and Democrats. Garland said “I will do the right thing,” saying he doesn’t hold any Google stock and “I don’t care what kind of donor talks to me.”
Garland said he wasn’t aware of any reason why the Google lawsuit would be dropped.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri asked Garland if he would resist demands from the left to investigate targets on political grounds. “I have grown pretty immune to any kind of pressure,” Garland said. “I don’t care who pressures me in whatever direction.”
Garland made no direct reference to calls for him to consider criminal charges against Trump for inciting the Capitol attack, a possibility that has been advanced not only by Democrats but also by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. The nominee did say he would pursue leads in the riot “wherever they take us.”
Just getting a hearing for the cabinet post is vindication for Garland almost five years after Senate Republicans blocked consideration of his nomination to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama. Grassley said he opposed Garland then because of the timing of the nomination, not his qualifications.
Immigration, Civil Rights
Garland made clear he would reverse Trump administration policies on issues including immigration. Condemning the separation of children from parents seized crossing the border, he said, “I think that the policies were shameful,” he said. “I can’t imagine anything worse than tearing children from their parents.”
He also said the Justice Department’s civil rights mission is “urgent because we do not yet have equal justice.”
“Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment, and in the criminal justice system; and they bear the brunt of the harm caused by pandemic, pollution, and climate change,” Garland said.
In response to a question, Garland said he didn’t see a need for the Justice Department to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that permit its use, a turn from the hard-line approach to the drug taken by Barr.
During his previous time at the department, Garland, 68, oversaw high-profile domestic terrorism prosecutions, including the Oklahoma City bombing and another at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
He first served in the department as a special assistant in President Jimmy Carter’s administration before going into private practice. He returned for a brief stint in 1989 as an assistant U.S. attorney.
In 1993, he became a deputy assistant attorney general in the department’s criminal division and then was promoted to be a top aide to the deputy attorney general.
Biden has nominated Lisa Monaco to be deputy attorney general and Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general, rounding out the leadership team. Monaco spent more than a decade at the Justice Department and was homeland security adviser in the Obama administration. Gupta headed the department’s Civil Rights Division under Obama.
The Judiciary Committee has yet to schedule confirmation hearings for Monaco and Gupta.
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