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Takeaways from the combative House Judiciary Committee hearing with Attorney General Merrick Garland

<i>Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>US Attorney General Merrick Garland is sworn in before testifying at a hearing of the House Committee on the Judiciary oversight of the US Department of Justice
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
US Attorney General Merrick Garland is sworn in before testifying at a hearing of the House Committee on the Judiciary oversight of the US Department of Justice

By Jeremy Herb, CNN

(CNN) — House Republicans and Attorney General Merrick Garland clashed Wednesday at a testy hearing that offered a preview of the coming Republican impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden focused on allegations surrounding his son, Hunter Biden.

Judiciary Committee Republicans peppered Garland with questions about the Justice Department investigation into Hunter Biden, charging that Garland and the special counsel investigating the case, David Weiss, were doing the bidding of the Bidens by offering Hunter Biden a plea deal that fell apart amid scrutiny from a judge.

Garland forcefully pushed back against the criticisms, saying he did not interfere in the investigation and that Weiss was given all the resources he asked for in the probe. He repeatedly declined to engage on specifics of the probe, however, frustrating the Republicans.

He also didn’t engage in GOP attacks against special counsel Jack Smith’s investigations into former President Donald Trump.

Here’s what to know:

Republicans’ attacks on Garland preview impeachment inquiry

Republicans grilled Garland over the Hunter Biden probe, criticisms that offered a preview of their impeachment inquiry focused on Hunter Biden’s business dealings – and Republicans’ efforts to tie them to the president.

Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, one of the three committee chairs spearheading the impeachment inquiry, accused the Justice Department of not prosecuting Hunter Biden over the tax years when Hunter Biden was on the board of Ukrainian energy firm Burisma.

Jordan claimed that Hunter’s work on Burisma was related to Joe Biden and the then-vice president’s demand that Ukraine fire its prosecutor general – even though Biden was carrying out bipartisan US policy that the prosecutor was not doing enough to prosecute corruption, including at Ukrainian companies like Burisma.

“The fix is in,” Jordan said. “The fix is in. Even with the face-saving indictment last week of Hunter Biden, everyone knows the fix is in.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, questioned Garland over Hunter Biden’s art sales, while pointing to testimony from Hunter’s business associate Devon Archer that when Hunter Biden worked for Burisma and other clients, he was “selling the appearance of access” to his father.

Garland stands firm: ‘I did not interfere’

Garland rejected allegations from Republicans and an IRS whistleblower that the Hunter Biden investigation was tainted by politics, and that he did not interfere with the probe in any way.

“I’m going to say again, and again, if necessary, I did not interfere with, did not investigate, did not make determinations” on the Hunter Biden case, the attorney general said.

In his opening statement, Garland rebuked congressional Republicans, saying, “I am not the president’s lawyer. I will also add that I am not Congress’ prosecutor.”

Under questioning, Garland didn’t go after the Republicans questioning him, but he disputed allegations that US attorney-turned special counsel Weiss was unable to charge Hunter Biden anywhere in the country that he wanted to, and not just in Delaware.

“I’m not going to get into the internal deliberations of the department,” Garland said, adding that he “made clear that if (Weiss) wanted to bring a case in any jurisdiction, he would be able to do that.”

Garland also said claims that the process to charge Hunter Biden in a different district were cumbersome were “not true.”

“All I have to do” is sign an order, Garland said. “He had the authority because I promised he would have the authority.”

Garland leans on Trump’s appointment of Hunter prosecutor

Over and over, Garland relied on the same refrain: Weiss had been appointed by Trump, and he left Weiss in charge after taking office.

“I promised the Senate when I came before it for confirmation that I would leave Mr. Weiss in place and that I would not interfere with his investigation,” Garland said.

Weiss was appointed by Trump as the US attorney for Delaware, and began the investigation into Hunter Biden in 2018. When Biden took office, he left Weiss in place so that the investigation could continue.

When Garland was pressed by Republicans on details of specific elements of the investigation, he pointed back to Weiss, saying those were questions he could answer. Garland also noted that Weiss is expected to testify before the panel next month, saying that lawmakers would have the chance to ask him questions directly.

“I have intentionally not involved myself in the facts in the case, not because I’m trying to get out of responsibility, but because I’m trying to pursue my responsibility,” Garland said.

But Garland doesn’t say why Weiss was appointed as special counsel

After Hunter Biden’s plea deal fell apart this summer, Weiss requested and was granted an appointment as special counsel last month. Weiss indicted Hunter Biden on gun charges last week. (Hunter Biden has said he intends to plead not guilty.)

Garland was questioned repeatedly about why the appointment came when it did, more than four years into the investigation into Hunter Biden.

Republicans contended that it didn’t matter that Weiss was appointed by Trump – claiming the plea deal he negotiated that was rejected by a judge showed he could not be trusted to properly investigate the case.

Garland would not comment on specifics behind the appointment, however, other than to say Weiss made the request.

“Mr. Weiss asked to be made special counsel. I had promised that I would give him all the resources he needed. I made him special counsel,” Garland said.

Garland’s answer left Republicans unsatisfied.

“Something changed,” Jordan alleged, questioning why Weiss needed special counsel authority to charge when Garland said he already had all authorities he needed.

“It’s a simple question. If he already had it, why does he need it?” Jordan said.

Garland said that Weiss will be able to testify in the future: “You will at the appropriate time have the opportunity to ask Mr. Weiss that question.”

Dems push back on Trump claims about politicized indictments

The back-and-forth questioning often gave Garland a bit of a breather when Democrats questioned Garland, with questions that were teed up to defend the Hunter Biden investigation as well as the special counsel’s investigations into Trump.

Garland was asked by Rep. Adam Schiff about Trump’s comments on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the charges he’s facing from special counsel Smith in the classified documents and election interference investigations were “Biden political indictments,” and that Biden “said to the attorney general, ‘indict him.’”

“Was [Trump] telling the truth or was he lying when he said the president told you to indict him?” Schiff asked.

“No one has told me who should be indicted in any matter like this, and the decision about indictment was made by Mr. Smith,” Garland responded.

Democrats also tried to get Garland to weigh in on questions over the Supreme Court and ethics, which he declined to do, and asked him to explain how disastrous it would be if the FBI was defunded – a shot at House Republicans who have called for cuts to the FBI’s funding in light of the Trump indictments.

Garland objects to question about religious discrimination

One of the most heated exchanges Wednesday occurred when Garland was questioned over whether the Justice Department, under his leadership, was improperly targeting Catholics because of their religious beliefs.

Garland, whose family fled antisemitic persecution in Eastern Europe, fiercely pushed back against the allegations when he was asked by Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey Republican, whether “‘traditional Catholics’ are violent extremists?”

The accusation stems from an FBI field office memo issued earlier this year that seemed to suggest the FBI was targeting “radical traditionalist Catholics.” The memo, which used a designation from the Southern Poverty Law Center to flag an eccentric Catholic group, was almost immediately pulled and quickly disavowed by FBI and DOJ leadership, including Garland himself.

Garland took exception to the question.

“The idea that someone with my family background would discriminate against any religious background is so outrageous, so absurd, that it’s hard for me to even answer your question,” shouted Garland, his voice audibly shaking.

“It was your FBI that did this,” Van Drew shouted back. “It was your FBI that was sending… undercover agents into Catholic churches.”

“Both I and the director of the FBI were appalled by that memo,” Garland said.

Van Drew repeatedly interrupted, asking: “Are they extremists or not?”

“Catholics are not extremists, no,” Garland said, shaking his head.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz, Holes Lybrand, Zachary Cohen, Devan Cole, Casey Riddle and Abby Baggini contributed to this report.

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