Attorney General

Garland hits out against 'unprecedented' and 'unfounded' attacks on the DOJ

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Merrick Garland

"This effort is only the most recent in a long line of attacks on the Justice Department’s work," Attorney General Merrick Garland told the House Judiciary Committee. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday forcefully defended the Justice Department against “repeated attacks” from Republican lawmakers that he said have undermined investigations and put federal employees in harm’s way.

Garland’s pointed testimony before the House Judiciary Committee came as GOP House leaders have threatened to hold him in contempt in their efforts to gain access to audio recordings from special counsel Robert K. Hur’s investigation into President Biden’s handling of classified materials.

Biden exerted executive privilege in April to keep the recordings from public view after Garland requested he do so over concerns that releasing them could harm future efforts to get officials to cooperate with investigations and sit for taped interviews.

At the hearing, Garland accused Republicans of “seeking contempt as a means of obtaining—for no legitimate purpose—sensitive law enforcement information that could harm the integrity of future investigations. This effort is only the most recent in a long line of attacks on the Justice Department’s work.”

GOP members used the hearing to ramp up criticism of Garland to paint his department as politically motivated in what they alleged was disparate legal treatment of Biden and former president Donald Trump, who was convicted last week of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in a New York state court.

In a letter to the House Republicans last month, the White House said transcripts of the Biden interviews with Hur have already been provided to lawmakers and accused Republicans of wanting to “distort” the recordings for political gain. Hur concluded in a lengthy report last fall that no criminal charges were warranted against Biden for his handling of classified materials after leaving the White House as vice president in 2017.

But Hur sharply criticized Biden’s age, which Republicans used to amplify political attacks against the president as unfit for a second term.

GOP leaders called Hur’s investigation politically compromised and railed against federal charges filed by another special counsel, Jack Smith, alleging that former president Donald Trump improperly kept classified documents after leaving the White House in 2021 and failed to heed requests from investigators to return them.

“Justice is no longer blind in America,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said at the hearing. “Today it’s driven by politics. Example number one is President Trump.”

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said Republicans wanted access to the audio recordings to determine whether the transcripts matched not just what Biden told Hur but also the context in which he said it, including long pauses and stutters that Hur described. Biggs suggested the recordings could provide greater clarity about whether the president should have been charged.

“Substantively, the transcript may be accurate, but, you know what, the audio would tell us so much more,” Biggs said.

That angered Democrats, who accused Biggs and others of trying to exploit the matter to paint Biden as infirm and boost Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, in an election year.

Biggs “gave up the game,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said, accusing Biggs of wanting the recordings “because Joe Biden stutters. He has had a stuttering problem his whole life and he overcame that disability to become president. It’s despicable that my Republican colleagues want to go after him.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler (N.Y.), the ranking Democrat, ripped his GOP colleagues on the committee for becoming “little more than a field office for the Trump campaign. … These Republicans don’t care about what’s in the interest of the American people. They just care about getting their favorite felon back in the White House.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman said Garland’s goal at the hearing was to push back against “false narratives regarding the Department’s employees and their work.”

In his remarks, Garland said: “I view contempt as a serious matter. But I will not jeopardize the ability of our prosecutors and agents to do their jobs effectively in future investigations. I will not be intimidated. And the Justice Department will not be intimidated. We will continue to do our jobs free from political influence. And we will not back down from defending democracy.”

Garland also rebutted Republicans’ criticism of Trump’s conviction last week in New York state court on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to cover up an alleged sexual relationship with an adult-film actress.

Trump and his GOP allies have falsely claimed that state prosecutors brought the case at the urging of the Biden administration and the Justice Department, even though federal prosecutors had declined to pursue the matter.

At the hearing, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) repeated claims Republicans have made without evidence that former Justice Department official Matthew Colangelo—now an assistant district attorney in Manhattan who helped prosecute Trump—was “dispatched” by Garland to bring that case.

“That is false. I did not dispatch Colangelo,” Garland said.

“Do you now how he ended up there?” Gaetz replied.

“I assume he applied for a job there and got it,” the attorney general said.

Garland called the suggestion that his office had exerted influence in the New York case a “conspiracy theory [that] is an attack on the judicial process itself.”

“These repeated attacks on the Justice Department are unprecedented and they are unfounded,” Garland said. “These attacks have not, and they will not, influence our decision-making.”

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