Garland, Promises to Fight Domestic Terrorism at the Confirmation Hearing
President Biden's Attorney General candidate advised the Senate Judiciary Committee that his first priority would be to investigate the Capitol riot.
On Monday, Judge Merrick B. Garland, President Biden's nominee for attorney general, said that the danger of domestic extremism was greater today than at the time of the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City, and he vowed that if approved, he would make the Capitol riot federal investigation his first priority.
"On the first day of his confirmation hearings, Judge Garland, who led the prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombing by the Justice Department, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the early stages of the current inquiry into the "white supremacists and others who invaded the Capitol" seemed to be aggressive and "perfectly fitting.
Five years after Senate Republicans blocked his appointment to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, he received a mostly favorable reception from members of both parties on the panel.
Judge Garland, 68, who was confirmed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Circuit of the District of Columbia in 1997, vowed on Monday to preserve the independence of the Department of Justice, which under the Trump administration had been highly politicised.
"Judge Garland said, "I do not plan on being interfered with by anyone. If appointed, he said, he would uphold the principle that "the public interest is represented by the attorney general."
Judge Garland also said that as America undergoes a traumatic and destabilizing reckoning with institutional injustice, he will reinvigorate the department's civil rights division.
"In housing, education, employment and the criminal justice system, communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination," Judge Garland said in his opening speech. He said, however, he did not endorse the demand from those on the left that arose from the civil rights demonstrations this summer to defund the police.
The Trump administration has been trying to curtail the protection of civil rights for transgender persons and minorities. Policies aimed at combating institutional racism, sexism, homophobia and other unconscious prejudices were also barred.
"Judge Garland said, "I consider my duties with respect to the civil rights division at the top of my list of major priorities.
Judge Garland addressed questions on a wide variety of additional subjects, including reform of criminal justice, antitrust lawsuits, large technology corporations' control, legislative oversight, and departmental morale.
Judge Garland said that "we are facing a more dangerous period than we faced in Oklahoma City," addressing the threat of domestic terrorism.
He called the Capitol attack "the most heinous assault I've ever seen on democratic processes, and one I never expected to see in my lifetime."
In addition to an immediate briefing on the case, he said he would "give all the resources they could possibly require to the career prosecutors who work in this way 24/7."
Battling extremism, Judge Garland said, is "central" to the role of the Justice Department and has also overlapped with its mission to eradicate structural racism, as with its fight against the Ku Klux Klan.
But the hearing was also a reminder of how politics hovers over so many of the high-profile problems that Judge Garland would face if he is confirmed by the full Senate, particularly when the Capitol riot investigation involves members of the inner circle of Mr. Trump and more defendants argue that they acted at the command of former President Donald J. Trump to prevent Mr. Biden from taking office.
"Asked by Rhode Island Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse whether the Capitol riot investigation should pursue "upstream" individuals of those who violated the building, including "funders, promoters, ringleaders or helpers and abettors who were not present at the Capitol on Jan. 6," Judge Garland replied, "We will pursue these leads wherever they take us.
Republicans focused mainly on two Trump-era politically charged investigations: a federal tax inquiry into the son of Mr. Biden, Hunter Biden, and the work of John H. Durham, a special counsel, to decide if officials of the Obama era erred in 2016 when they investigated Trump campaign officials and their links to Russia.
Judge Garland said he had not addressed with the president the Hunter Biden case, and he reiterated that final decisions on investigations and prosecutions would be taken by the Justice Department.
"That investigation proceeded discreetly, not publicly, as should be the case with all investigations," he said. He noted that in Delaware, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney had been asked to remain on and oversee the Hunter Biden investigation.
He said, "I have absolutely no reason to doubt that that was the right decision."
Judge Garland indicated that he would let the inquiry play out in response to a question about Mr. Durham's investigation, but resisted making any clear guarantees about how he would approach it.
"From what I know now, which is actually very little, I have no reason to make any determination," Judge Garland said. He said of Mr. Durham, "I have no reason to think that he should not remain in place."
He added, "I would have to talk to Mr. Durham and understand the nature of what he was doing and the nature of the report," about the disclosure of any report by Mr. Durham.
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the committee's top Republican, said he would not "take exception" to "not quite as explicit" responses to the Durham investigation as he wanted "because I think you're an honorable person."
Judge Garland has sterling legal credentials, a reputation in the Justice Department as a moderate and a long history of service. He served as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. attorney's office in Washington under President George H.W. Bush after clerking for Justice William J. Brennan Jr. and was selected to serve as her top deputy by Jamie Gorelick, the deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton.
In addition to Oklahoma City, before being confirmed to the federal appeals court, Judge Garland handled high-profile proceedings involving Theodore J. Kaczynski (a.k.a. the Unabomber) and the Atlanta Olympics bombings in 1996. He was generally portrayed as a moderate when Mr. Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court in 2016.
Key Republicans, including South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the committee, and Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, a minority leader, have said they would help Judge Garland to serve as the attorney general for Mr. Biden.
On Monday, Democrats cast him as the necessary antidote to four years in which Mr. Trump viewed investigators of the Justice Department as rivals to be crushed or players to be used to attack his political enemies and protect his allies, especially as he tried to thwart and reverse the investigation of Russia.
"In his opening remarks, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that "the Trump Justice Department's misdeeds took this country to the brink," and that Judge Garland would have to "restore the American people's confidence in the rule of law and provide fair justice.
Asked about the comment by Mr. Trump, "I have the absolute right to do what I want to do with the Department of Justice," Judge Garland said that the president "is constrained by the Constitution" and that Mr. Biden had vowed not to intervene with the work of the department in any situation.
The response of Judge Garland drew an implicit comparison to William P. Barr, who served for almost two years under Mr. Trump as attorney general and seemed to see his position as serving the president's interests far more than other post-Watergate attorneys general.
"Without regard to partisanship, without regard to the authority of the perpetrator or the lack of authority, respect for the influence of the perpetrator or the absence of influence," he said, "decisions will be made by the department itself and led by the attorney general."
For the most part, Judge Garland was measured and even-tempered, but when he described his family's escape from anti-Semitism and persecution in Eastern Europe and asylum in America, he became emotional.
"He said, his voice halting, "The nation took us in and sheltered us. I feel a responsibility to pay the nation back. This is the biggest, easiest way to pay back my own collection of abilities. And so I just want to be the kind of attorney general you suggest I will become.
Judge Garland vowed to comply with a congressional investigation into the "zero tolerance" policy of the Trump Justice Department on illegal immigration that contributed to the separation of large numbers of parents from their children.
"I think the policy was shameful," said Judge Garland. There is nothing worse I can imagine than tearing parents from their children. And we're going to have all the cooperation that we can possibly have.'
Garland shares a family history of fleeing antisemitism at a hearing for emotional validation
Garland had previously noticed the emigration of his grandparents from western Russia.
During his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Monday, Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland visibly fought back tears when thinking about his family escaping pogroms in Eastern Europe in the early 1900s.
In answer to a question from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) about his family's history of "facing hate and discrimination," Garland talked about his grandparents.
I come from a family where my grandparents fled from persecution and antisemitism. Garland said, "The country took us in and protected us," as his lower lip visibly trembled.
I feel an obligation to repay the country," he continued, pausing as his voice broke." This is the biggest, easiest way to pay back my own collection of skills. And so I just want to be the kind of attorney general you say I should become. I'm going to do my best to try to be that type of attorney general.
At the announcement of his appointment to the Supreme Court in 2016, which was blocked by Senate Republicans, the former appeals court judge previously addressed this family history during a speech.
At the time, Garland said, "My family deserves a great deal of credit for the path that led me here." "In the early 1900s, my grandparents left the Pale of Settlement on the border of western Russia and eastern Europe, fleeing anti-Semitism and hoping to make their children's lives better in America."
Garland was later thanked by Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) for sharing his tale, noting that his family has a similar background,
"They probably knew each other," Garland quipped in response, chuckling.
"I'm sure your ancestors could hardly have imagined that you would now sit in front of this committee pending confirmation of this position," Ossoff continued.
Garland and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) engaged in a tense debate later in the hearing about Kristen Clarke, the nominee of President Joe Biden to head the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department. When she headed the college's Black Student Group, Clarke faced backlash for welcoming a speaker who wrote an antisemitic screed to speak at Harvard. Since then, Clarke has called the move a mistake.
"Lee asked Garland if antisemitic comments "would... be important to anyone who wanted to run the Division of Civil Rights.
"You know my thoughts on anti-Semitism. "No one has to question them," Garland fired back, interrupting Lee. "I'm a pretty good judge of what an antisemite is, and I don't think she's an antisemite, and in any sense, I don't think she's discriminatory."