WASHINGTON – Merrick Garland, the candidate for Attorney General for President Joe Biden, is expected to face questions Monday how he will tackle some daunting challenges, including an investigation into the president’s son and the actions of the former president and his close advisers.
During a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Garland is likely to emphasize his goal of protecting the Justice Department’s independence from White House political interference in law enforcement investigations after William Barr was frequently accused, including by federal judges, of putting Donald Trump’s interests ahead the department.
When his nomination was announced last month, he said he would endeavor to see that “how cases are treated alike, that there is not one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, one rule for friends and another for Enemies. “
The senators will ask for assurances that he will not allow politicians to influence a Barr-initiated tax investigation of Biden’s son Hunter or of former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s dealings with the Ukrainian government. He will also have questions about Special Counsel John Durham, who has been appointed by Barr to investigate the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign.
Democrats could push him to explain how he will evaluate the allegations that led Trump and Giuliani to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The Senate voted not to convict the former president, but Republican leader Mitch McConnell said, “We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil trials, and past presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either.”
Garland and his deputies will be tasked with leading the federal investigation into the insurrection. So far, more than 250 people have been charged and more than 550 investigations are now open. In his prepared remarks for the hearing, he called it “a hideous attack designed to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government”.
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He will face an even greater challenge in deciding whether and how to amend federal law to give the FBI more leeway to investigate domestic terrorism without violating freedom of expression. Matthew Schneider, who, as a US attorney in Detroit, charged members of an extremist group with plotting to kidnap Michigan’s governor, said it was one of the biggest questions law enforcement faces.
“Every time there is a major event in US history, the law has changed,” he said. “There was organized crime in the 1970s, they passed RICO [the federal racketeering law]. Credit card fraud in the 80s, they passed identification laws. After September 11th, they passed the Patriot Act. So the question is, do you think we need a new domestic terrorism law after January 6th? “
If this is confirmed – as is likely if Democrats control the Senate – Garland will return to the department he left 24 years ago to serve as a judge on the federal appeals court in Washington. It first became public knowledge in 1995: after the federal building of Oklahoma City was bombed, Garland was hired to oversee the government’s handling of the case.
President Bill Clinton tried him on the appeals court, and in 2016 Barack Obama nominated Garland to succeed Antonin Scalia on the US Supreme Court. But the Republicans blocked the nomination, and Garland has never had a hearing.
Garland’s prepared remarks said the civil rights mission remains urgent. “We do not have equal justice yet. Color communities and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment and criminal justice,” he said.
A non-partisan group of more than 150 former Justice Department officials signed a letter in support of Garland’s current nomination, including four former attorneys general – Democrats Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, and Republicans Alberto Gonzales and Michael Mukasey.
When Biden announced his election of Garland as attorney general, he said, “You will not work for me. You are not the president or the vice president’s attorney. Your loyalty is not supposed to be. It’s about the law, the constitution, the people this nation. “
On Monday, Garland will answer hours of questions about how he will put this goal into practice.