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6 takeaways from Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearing

Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s attorney general nominee, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, vowing to preserve the integrity of the Justice Department and to fully prosecute the “heinous” crimes committed during the attack on the US Capitol last month.

The chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit pledged to “fend off any effort by anyone” to politicize the investigations of the department.

“I am not the President’s lawyer,” said Garland. “I am the United States’ lawyer.”

Here are six takeaways from Garland’s nomination hearing.

Garland pledged to ‘protect’ the Justice Department from political pressure

Senate Republicans pressed Garland on the independence of the Justice Department from the White House.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz asked him about whether he would be Biden’s “wing man,” a dig at a 2013 comment from former President Barack Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder.

“I will do everything in my power, which I believe is considerable, to fend off any effort by anyone to make prosecutions or investigations partisan or political in any way,” Garland said. “My job is to protect the Department of Justice and its employees in going about their job and doing the right thing, according to the facts and the law.”

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa asked Garland whether he had spoken to Biden about his son’s case. Federal investigators in Delaware have been examining multiple financial issues, including whether Hunter Biden violated tax and money laundering laws in business dealings in foreign countries.

“I have not,” Garland responded. “The President made abundantly clear in every public statement before and after my nomination that decisions about investigations and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department. That was the reason that I was willing to take on this job.”

Garland said DOJ will pursue all leads in investigation of Capitol riot

Democrats largely didn’t mention Donald Trump by name when they asked about the investigation into the January 6 riot at the Capitol, but they touched on the question of whether the Justice Department should examine the former President’s role for encouraging the mob, which led to his impeachment. Even Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, after voting to acquit Trump in the Senate trial, suggested that the criminal justice system is the right venue in which to consider those allegations.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, encouraged Garland to look “upstream” and “not rule out investigation of funders, organizers, ringleaders, or aiders and abettors, who were not present in the Capitol on January 6.”

“We begin with the people on the ground and we work our way up to those who were involved and further involved,” responded Garland. “We will pursue these leads wherever they take us.”

Garland has concerns about death penalty

Before becoming a judge, Garland led the Justice Department investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. He said Monday that he did not regret the execution of the perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh. But he said that he had “developed concerns” about the death penalty since then due to some exonerations of those convicted, the “arbitrariness and randomness of its application,” and its “disparate impact” on Black Americans and other minority communities.

“Those are things that give me pause,” he said.

Garland said if the President ordered a moratorium on the death penalty then it would apply to all cases. But in response to a question from Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Garland said he had not yet considered whether to recommend to Biden an across the board commutation of death row inmates to reduce their sentences to life in prison.

Garland sees no reason why Durham probe won’t continue

Senate Republicans urged Garland to allow special counsel John Durham to complete his investigation of the FBI’s Russia probe but Garland’s response didn’t exactly satisfy them.

Cotton pressed Garland to explain why he couldn’t pledge to give Durham the resources he needed, pointing out that former Attorney General William Barr did so for the Mueller probe during his 2019 confirmation hearing.

Garland said he needed to learn more about the investigation before he could make any commitments, but added that he didn’t have “any reason to think he should not remain in place.”

Garland said that there were “problems” with the FBI’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants in the Russia investigation, which were documented by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report.

“I think deeply that we have to be careful about how we use FISA, and that’s the reason we have pretty strict regulations internally in policies,” he added. “We need to find out why they aren’t followed and to be sure that they are followed.”

Garland on path to be confirmed with bipartisan support

Garland is expected to be confirmed in the Democratic-led Senate with bipartisan support.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Garland was “a very good pick for this job.” And GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas indicated he would vote for Garland, saying the nominee met the senator’s “sole” criteria — a pledge to conduct investigations without succumbing to political influence.

Even Republicans who may vote against him praised Garland.

“In two-plus decades on the court, you have built a reputation for integrity and for setting aside partisan interests in following the law,” said Cruz, before noting that the attorney general job is different.

Garland wants to ‘pay back’ his country for protecting his family from anti-Semitism

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker asked Garland to share a private conversation they had about his family history in confronting hate and discrimination. Garland responded with a brief, yet emotional, anecdote, fighting back tears as he explained why leading the Justice Department was important to him.

“I come from a family where my grandparents fled anti-Semitism and persecution,” Garland said. “The country took us in, and protected us. I feel an obligation to the country to pay back.”

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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