Garland pushes back against GOP claims of law enforcement bias
House Republicans confronted Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday with wide-ranging accusations of political bias within the Justice Department, focusing on the investigation of President Biden’s son Hunter — a case that has taken a number of unexpected twists in the last year.
Garland repeatedly said he had left the Biden case entirely in the hands of David Weiss, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Delaware, to avoid any possibility of political interference. He insisted the case has been handled carefully and impartially, despite complaints from some of the agents involved that the Justice Department throttled back their work.
For more than five hours, Republicans scoffed at Garland’s explanations and erupted indignantly when he refused to discuss specifics of the politically sensitive investigation.
“The fix is in,” declared the House Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “Even with the face-saving indictment last week of Hunter Biden, everyone knows the fix is in.”
Jordan and others spent some time questioning the two federal indictments of former president Donald Trump, and revisiting long-standing Republican concerns about whether the Justice Department is improperly targeting Catholics and public school parents, among others. But most of their effort was spent pressing the nation’s top law enforcement officer to say more about Hunter Biden.
“I promised the Senate that I would not intrude in his investigation. I do not intend to discuss internal Justice Department deliberations, whether or not I had them,” Garland said. “I have intentionally not involved myself in the facts of the case, not because I am trying to get out of responsibility, because I am trying to pursue my responsibility.”
The probe of Hunter Biden’s finances began in 2018, during the Trump administration. It became a rallying cry for Republicans during the 2020 election and is likely to be a major focus of the GOP in the 2024 presidential race.
Last month, after a plea deal fell apart in which the younger Biden would have admitted to two violations of tax laws, Garland appointed Weiss as special counsel, giving him a greater, more formal degree of independence to investigate and pursue indictments.
Weiss charged Biden last week with lying on a gun-purchasing form and illegally possession a weapon. He is considering seeking an indictment on tax counts as well, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive ongoing case. Biden is scheduled to be arraigned in court in Wilmington in early October.
Jordan and other Republicans on the panel repeatedly argued that Garland or his aides had interfered or mishandled the case, and asked why Garland had not replaced Weiss with someone else.
Garland did not answer many of the specific questions about the Biden case, including issues raised by two IRS agent whistleblowers who have claimed Justice Department officials stymied and dragged the investigation. Repeatedly, the attorney general said lawmakers would have to ask Weiss — while also suggesting those answers may have to wait until the investigation is complete and Weiss issues a final report on it.
Garland said he did not consider appointing anyone else to take the role of special counsel investigating Hunter Biden. “Mr. Weiss is an experienced federal prosecutor with extensive experience and with sufficient credibility to be appointed by President Trump,” he said.
Democrats defended Garland and accused the Republicans of clownish subservience to Trump, who has been indicted for alleged obstruction of the 2020 election results — actions that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol — and for mishandling classified documents and obstructing government efforts to get them back.
“Mr. Attorney General, you are serious. They are not,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said. “You are decent. They are not. You are fair. They are not.”
Pointing to Jordan and the others at the hearing, Swalwell sarcastically added: “I welcome you to the law firm of Insurrection LLP, where they work every single day on behalf of one client.”
While Republicans often ran hot, at times speaking over Garland, interrupting him or offering acerbic asides, most of the attorney general’s answers were delivered in a calm, sometimes raspy tone. But his temper flared when one lawmaker accused federal law enforcement of religious discrimination. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) made claims of abuses by the department, then asked, “Do you agree that traditional Catholics are violent extremists?”
“The idea that someone with my family background would discriminate against any religion is so outrageous, so absurd,” the usually soft-spoken Garland said, referring to family members lost to the Holocaust. “Catholics are not extremists, no.”
Van Drew was referring to a January memo written by the FBI’s Richmond office suggesting that traditional Catholic groups were worth considering “for tripwire and source development.” In FBI parlance, “tripwires” are programs designed to develop relationships with businesses or people that might provide tips to law enforcement about suspicious behavior. Such tripwire programs have long existed, for example, with businesses that sell beauty supply chemicals that can also be used to make explosives.
The FBI memo said extremists find “radical-traditionalist Catholic” ideology attractive and will “continue to attempt to connect with” such Catholic adherents. After Republicans charged that the memo showed law enforcement officials were targeting Catholics, FBI officials withdrew the document and said it was wrong.
Garland again disavowed the memo Wednesday. Throughout his testimony, he rejected Republican claims that the department conducts criminal investigations with a bias toward anyone’s politics or background.
“There is not one set of laws for the powerful and another for the powerless; one for the rich, another for the poor; one for Democrats, another for Republicans; or different rules, depending upon one’s race or ethnicity or religion,” Garland said.
White House officials denounced the hearing as a sideshow from the looming threat of a government shutdown, which seems more likely as the GOP-controlled House has so far been unable to muster enough votes to fund the basic functions of government for the coming months.
“Extreme House Republicans are running a not-so-sophisticated distraction campaign to try to cover up their own actions that are hurting America to a dangerous and costly government shutdown,” White House spokesperson Ian Sams said. “They cranked up a circus of a hearing full of lies and disinformation with the sole goal of baselessly attacking President Biden and his family.”