President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland, will appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee today for his first confirmation hearing.
It’s a big moment for Garland, who was denied a confirmation hearing by Senate Republicans when former President Barack Obama in 2016 nominated him to serve on the Supreme Court.
Garland, 68, emphasized the Justice Department’s 150-year history of battling discrimination in American life, while also highlighting his experience pursuing domestic terrorists.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in his opening statement that Garland’s biggest job as attorney general will be to rebuild the reputation of the Justice Department and to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Durbin told Garland that “there have been few moments in history where the role of attorney general … have mattered more.”
“You will oversee a Justice Department in an existential moment,” Durbin said. “After four tumultuous years of intrigue, controversy and brute political forces, the future course of the department is clearly in transition.”
Durbin accused former President Donald Trump’s two attorneys general — Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr — of being primarily committed to advancing the interests of Trump, his family and political allies.
Consequently, Durbin said, the Justice Department “pursued policies of almost unimaginable harm to the American people,” citing the separation of migrant children from their parents at the border and the Muslim travel ban.
“And so, Judge Garland, it’s no overstatement to say that your nomination is one of the most critical in the Department’s history,” Durbin said.
The Illinois senator said Garland will also have a “unique responsibility to investigate the Jan. 6 attack.”
Garland is now a federal appellate judge who led the investigation and prosecution of the 1994 Oklahoma City bombing and he has strong experience to oversee the investigation into the attack on the Capitol.
Garland intends to tell lawmakers that his confirmation would be “the culmination of a career I have dedicated to ensuring that the laws of our country are fairly and faithfully enforced, and that the rights of all Americans are protected.”
He has served as a United States circuit judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1997. Garland became chief judge of the D.C. Circuit on February 12, 2013.
Before becoming a judge, Garland was best known in legal circles for his role guiding the investigation and prosecution of Timothy McVeigh, the man who detonated a bomb outside a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168.
McVeigh was convicted and sentenced to death, and in 2001 he was executed.
As an Assistant United States Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, Garland represented the government in criminal cases ranging from drug trafficking to complex public corruption matters.
Garland was one of three principal prosecutors who handled the investigation into Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry’s possession of cocaine.
Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick – a key mentor of Garland’s—asked him to be her principal deputy associate attorney general.
In that role, Garland’s responsibilities included the supervision of high-profile domestic-terrorism cases, including the Oklahoma City bombing, Ted Kaczynski (also known as the “Unabomber”), and the Atlanta Olympics bombings.
Republicans are expected to try to extract promises of specific investigations and prosecutions in politically sensitive cases.
Already, GOP members on the panel have called for Garland to pledge to investigate the administration of New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, for his handling of nursing home deaths related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Republicans also are likely to press Garland about the ongoing investigation of President Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, for possible tax or financial crimes.
If confirmed, Garland will inherit special counsel John Durham’s probe into how the FBI and other intelligence agencies investigated former president Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign — a case in which Republicans have repeatedly called for criminal charges to be filed against former officials.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the committee’s highest-ranking Republican, called Garland a “good pick to lead the Department of Justice” but he signaled he intended to ask Garland for a public commitment to protect Durham’s probe — which, in a written copy of his remarks, he said Garland had declined to provide in a private conversation.
Grassley noted that when then-attorney general nominee William P. Barr appeared before the committee, he had said of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, “It’s vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation.”
“We should expect the same level of commitment from you to protect Durham, as we expected from Barr to protect Mueller,” Grassley said.
Cabinet nominees often seek to deflect demands for specific actions or policy goals, and Garland’s current job as a federal judge may lead him to be even more circumspect in his answers.
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