WASHINGTON – Judge Merrick B. Garland, President Biden's nominee for Attorney General, said Monday that the threat of domestic extremism is greater today than it was at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and he promised that if he was Confirmed, the federal investigation into the Capitol riot will be first priority.
Judge Garland, who led the Justice Department 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 current investigation into the & # 39; white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol & # 39; seemed to be aggressive and "perfectly adequate".
He was largely welcomed by members of both sides on the panel, five years after Senate Republicans blocked his nomination to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy created by the death of Judge Antonin Scalia. .
Judge Garland, 68, who was confirmed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1997, promised on Monday to restore the independence of a Department of Justice that had undergone deep politicization under the Trump administration.
& # 39; I don't intend to let anyone bother me, & # 39; Judge Garland said. If confirmed, he said, he would uphold the principle that "the attorney general represents the common good."
Judge Garland also said he would revive the department's civil rights division as America undergoes a painful and destabilizing reckoning with systemic racism.
"Colored communities and other minorities continue to face discrimination in housing, education, employment and the criminal justice system," Judge Garland said in his pick up lineBut he said he did not support the call from some on the left that emerged from this summer's civil rights protests to defend the police.
The Trump administration has made efforts to curb civil rights protections for transgender and minority people. It also banned policies against systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, and other implicit biases.
"I consider my responsibilities to the civil rights department to be at the top of my priority list," said Judge Garland.
Judge Garland answered questions on a wide variety of additional topics, including criminal law reform, antitrust cases, the power of major technology companies, congressional scrutiny, and department morale.
Judge Garland discussed the threat of domestic terrorism and said that "we face a more dangerous period than Oklahoma City."
He called the attack on the Capitol "the most horrific attack on democratic processes I have ever witnessed, and one that I never expected in my lifetime."
In addition to an immediate briefing on the investigation, he said he would "provide the prosecutors working this way 24/7 with all the resources they might need."
The fight against extremism is & # 39; central & # 39; in the Justice Department's mission and often overlaps with its mission to combat systemic racism, such as in the fight against the Ku Klux Klan, Judge Garland said.
But the hearing was also a reminder of how politics is hovering over so many of the high-profile issues Judge Garland will face as the full Senate confirms him, especially as the Capitol's riot investigation has made members of Mr. Trump's inner circle and more defendants allege they acted on orders from former President Donald J. Trump to prevent Mr. Biden from taking office.
Asked by Rhode Island Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse if the investigation into the Capitol riot should be haunting people & # 39; upstream & # 39; of those who breached the building, including & # 39; funders, organizers, leaders or helpers and accomplices who weren't present at the Capitol on January 6, & # 39; said Judge Garland, & # 39; We will follow these directions wherever they take us. & # 39;
Republicans focused primarily on two politically charged Trump-era investigations: a federal tax investigation into Mr. Biden's son, Hunter Biden, and the work of special counsel, John H. Durham, to determine whether Obama-era officials made a mistake in 2016 when investigating campaign officials of Trump and their ties to Russia.
Judge Garland said he had not discussed the Hunter Biden case with the president, and reiterated that the Justice Department would make final decisions on investigations and prosecutions.
"That investigation was conducted discreetly, not in public, as all investigations should," he said. He noted that the US attorney appointed by Trump in Delaware had been asked to stay on and oversee the Hunter Biden investigation.
"I have absolutely no reason to doubt that this was the right decision," he said.
Judge Garland responded to a question about Mr. Durham and suggested he let the investigation go ahead, but he avoided explicit promises about how he would handle it.
"I have no reason – as far as I now know, which is actually very little – to make a decision," said Judge Garland. “I have no reason to think he shouldn't stay put,” he said of Mr. Durham.
Regarding the disclosure of a report by Mr Durham, he added, "However, I should talk to Mr Durham and understand the nature of what he did and the nature of the report."
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the committee, said he would not make an "exception" to answers about the Durham investigation that were "not as explicit" as he wanted "because I think you are an honorable person. are. "
Judge Garland has excellent legal qualifications, a reputation for being a moderate and a long history of service with the Department of Justice. After serving with Justice William J. Brennan Jr., he worked as a federal prosecutor for the United States law firm in Washington under President George H.W. Bush and was chosen by Jamie Gorelick, the Deputy Attorney General under President Bill Clinton, to serve as her best deputy.
In addition to Oklahoma City, Judge Garland oversaw high-profile cases, including Theodore J. Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber) and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, before being upheld by the federal appeals court. When Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court in 2016, he was generally portrayed as moderate.
Major Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the commission, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, have said they would support Judge Garland to serve as Mr. Biden's attorney general.
Democrats on Monday cast him as the necessary antidote to four years in which Mr. Trump had treated Justice Department investigators as enemies to be crushed or players to be used to attack his political enemies and protect his allies, especially because he tried to thwart and undo the Russia inquiry.
Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in his opening statement that "the crimes of the Trump Justice Department have brought this nation to the margins" and that Judge Garland "has left the American people's faith in the rule of law and ensures equal justice. "
When asked about Mr. Trump's statement, "I have the absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department," Judge Garland said that the president is "constrained by the constitution," and that Mr. Biden in any case had promised not to interfere with the work of the department.
Judge Garland's response drew an implicit contrast to William P. Barr, who served as attorney general under Mr. Trump for nearly two years and appeared to see his role as serving the interests of the president far more than other attorneys general after Watergate.
“Decisions are made by the department itself and guided by the attorney general,” he said, “with no regard for partiality, with no regard for the offender's power or lack of power, regarding the offender's influence or lack of influence. "
Judge Garland was measured and poised for the most part, but he got emotional when describing his flight from anti-Semitism and persecution in Eastern Europe and asylum in America.
& # 39; The land took us in – and protected us, & # 39; he said in a faltering voice. “I feel obliged to repay the country. This is the highest and best use of my own skills to repay. And so I really want to be the kind of attorney general you say I could become. "
Judge Garland pledged to cooperate in a congressional investigation into the Trump Justice Department's "zero tolerance" policy on illegal immigration that led to large numbers of parents being separated from their children.
& # 39; I think the policy was a disgrace, & # 39; said Judge Garland. "I can't imagine anything worse than tearing parents off their children. And we will cooperate in every possible way."