Merrick Garland, appointed by the United States attorney general, assured Congress on Monday that he would remain independent of party influences if confirmed for the post.
Garland, one of President Joe Biden’s highest profile nominees, would oversee a far-reaching department that has a hand in everything from the prosecution of protesters who invaded the Capitol on January 6 to the country’s failed immigration system. He is set to take over the Department at a particularly tense time, with a crisis of confidence about the DOJ impartiality spurred by the Donald Trump presidency and numerous controversial political investigations in progress, including one on the financial negotiations of Biden’s son Hunter, and another on the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. The way Garland navigates the complicated party environment can have huge consequences for the public’s faith in the Department.
On his first day of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Garland dealt with issues that reflected the breadth of his potential competence as attorney general and the danger of being considered too political.
“I don’t consider myself anything other than the attorney for the people of the United States. I am not the president’s attorney. I am the lawyer for the United States, ”said Garland, in response to a question from Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, about whether Garland was Biden’s“ right hand ”.
So far, many of the efforts of the Biden government have been aimed at returning the country to a state of stability. This follows an uncontrollably chaotic administration by Trump and several scandals involving his attorney generals, Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr, including the zero tolerance policy who plucked migrant children from their parents and use of military force against peaceful protesters for racial justice just before Trump attended a nearby photo shoot.
To that end, Garland gave careful responses, in line with the Biden government’s goals of isolating the attorney general from political pressure. He noted that he did not expect to have conversations with donors. He emphasized that anyone with a conflict of interest would not be involved in the related investigations. And when asked if he would commit to keeping the John Durham Special Council – which is investigating the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation – in his role, Garland went so far as to say that, although he had no doubt that decision to keep Durham in place it was the “right decision”, he needed more information.
Video: Merrick Garland promises to sue the January 6 attack on Capitol at a confirmation hearing (MSNBC)
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“I’m telling you what I think an attorney general should do, which is to examine the facts before making a decision,” said Garland. “I am also saying that I will never make a decision in the department based on politics or partisanship. Therefore, any decision I made would not be based on that. “
On several occasions, Garland cited Biden’s public and private commitments that, as Attorney General, Garland would remain independent of political pressure. That was the reason he said he was convinced to accept the post, leaving behind a lifetime appointment as a judge at the federal appeals court. He also explained that he saw his role in defending Justice Department employees from pressures that could interfere with their jobs.
At one point, when asked by a Republican senator whether he would resign if asked to do something illegal or unethical, Garland said he would, if his advice that an action was illegal was ignored. “I don’t expect this to happen to this president, who has made it totally clear, publicly and privately, that he will not do that,” said Garland.
What Garland did not mention in taking care to distance himself from party politics was his previous appointment to the Supreme Court. In 2016, when Garland was appointed to the Supreme Court by then President Barack Obama to replace the late judge Antonin Scalia, Republican Party senators refused to hold hearings to consider him, and Garland was caught in the middle of a tough party battle. . In the end, his nomination fell victim to the Republicans’ relentless tactics.
The Republicans’ gamble paid off: Trump was elected and replaced Scalia with his own conservative candidate, one of the three Supreme Court justices he held during his term. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the senior member of the Judiciary Committee who was chairman at the time Garland was appointed to the Supreme Court, addressed this directly in his opening remarks on Monday. “I had something to do with it after Judge Scalia’s death,” said Grassley.
Some Republicans have incited Garland with questions designed to provoke outrage among his supporters, including Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who has accused two DOJ-nominated women, Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke, of tolerating “radical” positions in the past. Garland jumped to his defense, guaranteeing his integrity. “I have faith in them,” said Garland. “The ball stops me, as Harry Truman said.”
Despite the interrogation, Garland, widely regarded as a pragmatic moderate, is expected to gain bipartisan support for confirmation. Several Republican senators indicated that they considered Garland a good fit for the job. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, a Democrat and committee chairman, told reporters on Monday that a plenary vote on Garland’s nomination could be held next week.
In the meantime, Garland must continue to argue that he will not be influenced by politics.
“I would like, during my time in the Department of Justice, to turn down the volume in the way people see the department. May the Department of Justice not be the center of party disagreement. Let us go back to the days when the department makes its law enforcement and criminal justice policy, and let it be seen in a bipartisan way, ”said Garland in his closing speech on Monday. “I know that these are times of division. I am not naive. But I would like to do everything I can to make people believe that this is what we are doing. “