During Senate Hearings, US Attorney General Nominee Garland Vows to Fight Extremism, Discrimination

February 22, 2021

U.S. Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland plans to tell senators at his confirmation hearing Monday that he is committed to fighting discrimination in American life and extremist attacks against the government.

The 68-year-old Garland, currently a federal appellate court judge in Washington and a 2016 Supreme Court nominee whom Senate Republicans refused to consider in a presidential election year, is one of President Joe Biden’s most important Cabinet selections.

If confirmed by the Senate, Garland would head the Justice Department amid its ongoing investigation of hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump, many of them with anti-government views, who stormed into the U.S. Capitol last month to confront lawmakers as they were certifying that Biden defeated Trump in last November’s election.

In addition, Garland could oversee contentious racial disputes involving law enforcement abuses of minorities in criminal cases that has led to massive street demonstrations in recent months.

Garland appears likely to win approval in the Senate, which is politically divided between 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, but with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote in his favor if needed. Already, at least two Republican senators have expressed support for his nomination.

Even so, Garland is likely to face sharp questions from Republican lawmakers at his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee about pending investigations started by attorneys general appointed by Trump.

President Biden has pledged to take a hands-off role in criminal investigation decisions and let Garland and career prosecutors decide which cases to pursue, including those possibly involving Trump and officials from his time in the White House. While in office, Trump, by long-standing Justice Department policy, could not face criminal charges, but now, as a private citizen, he no longer has such immunity from prosecution.

One early question Garland would face is the state of the ongoing investigation into the overseas financial transactions and tax implications for Hunter Biden, the president’s son. Both Hunter Biden and his father have said there was no wrongdoing.

Another politically tinged probe remains unresolved, about the origins of the investigation into the role that Russia played in support of Trump’s 2016 campaign when he won an upset victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Republicans, including Trump, have demanded that officials who worked in law enforcement under the last Democratic president, Barack Obama, when Biden was his vice president, be criminally charged for initiating the lengthy probe of Russia’s involvement.

Some Republicans have also demanded an investigation of a prominent Democratic state governor, Andrew Cuomo of New York, and his role in covering up the high number of coronavirus deaths at nursing homes in the state.

In written remarks released ahead of his confirmation hearing, Garland says that the United States “does not yet have equal justice.”

“Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system; and bear the brunt of the harm caused by pandemic, pollution, and climate change,” Garland says.

Garland says that if he becomes attorney general, it 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.”

Obama nominated Garland to the Supreme Court five years ago, but Republicans, who then controlled the Senate, refused to consider the nomination in the months ahead of the 2016 election. The Republican-controlled chamber, reversing course, quickly approved one of Trump’s appointments to the high court, Amy Coney Barrett, just days ahead of the 2020 election.

The Biden administration has upheld Garland, who is viewed as a judicial moderate, as a welcome change to the frequent turmoil that erupted in Trump’s Justice Department.

Garland’s nomination has been praised by civil rights groups as well as by police organizations, more than 150 former Justice Department officials from both the Democratic and Republicans parties, and 61 former federal judges.

Two Republican senators have expressed their support for Garland.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and a member of the Judiciary Committee tweeted support on January 6.

“He is a man of great character, integrity, and tremendous competency in the law,” Graham wrote.

“Judge Garland’s extensive legal experience makes him well-suited to lead the Department of Justice, and I appreciated his commitment to keep politics out of the Justice Department,” Cornyn’s statement added.

Garland has been a federal appeals court judge in Washington for the past two decades. Early in his career, Garland was best known for overseeing the investigation and prosecution of Timothy McVeigh, the man who detonated a bomb outside a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people. McVeigh was convicted, sentenced to death and executed in 2001.

Now, Garland says that experience will put him in good stead in the investigation of the attack on the Capitol.

“If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government,” he says in his prepared remarks.

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