US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday used testimony before the House Judiciary Committee to hit back at Republican critics — including former president Donald Trump — who have accused him without evidence of doing the political bidding of the Biden administration.
Mr Garland, who appeared on Capitol Hill for a scheduled oversight hearing before the GOP-led panel, opened his remarks with a defence of his department’s work and its independence from both the White House and the US legislative branch.
“Our job is not to take orders from the president, from Congress, or from anyone else, about who or what to criminally investigate,” he said.
“I am not the president’s lawyer. I will add I am not Congress’s prosecutor. The Justice Department works for the American people”.
Mr Garland’s testimony before the House committee was his first appearance at the Capitol since his department levelled charges against Mr Trump, who has been indicted by federal grand juries in Florida and Washington DC.
His appearance was also his first trip to speak before Congress since a special prosecutor he appointed brought charges against President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, in a Delaware federal court.
Republicans in Congress have complained that the charges against both men are evidence of a two-tiered justice system and have accused Mr Garland of carrying out political vendettas on behalf of President Biden, while they have also argued that Mr Weiss, an appointee of Mr Trump who was asked to stay on to continue supervising the long-running probe into Hunter Biden, is somehow acting to cover up wrongdoing by the Biden family.
Mr Garland told the panel that his decision to give Mr Weiss the added authority of a special counsel came in response to a request from Mr Weiss, who is still also serving as the US attorney for the District of Delaware.
He also repeatedly pushed back at suggestions that he had been less than truthful when he told Congress in prior testimony that Mr Weiss had “full authority” to bring whatever charges he felt were appropriate against the president’s son.
Multiple Republican members of the panel complained that the Delaware prosecutor had not been given the special counsel status he was given until last month, but Mr Garland said he commissioned Mr Weiss as a special prosecutor in response to his specific request for that authority.
“Mr Weiss asked for that authority, given the extraordinary circumstances of this matter, and given my promise that I would give him any resources he requested. I made him special counsel,” he said.
He later added, under questioning from a Democratic member of the panel, that the GOP rhetoric regarding Hunter Biden lacks any basis in reality.
The attorney general also pushed back against a claim by the ex-president, who on Sunday accused President Biden of having personally ordered the department to prosecute him.
Mr Garland, who last November named Jack Smith as a special counsel to supervise probes into Mr Trump’s alleged unlawful retention of national defence information and his alleged unlawful effort to overturn his 2020 election loss, said the decision to seek charges against the ex-president was Mr Smith’s and did not come in response to any directive from the president or anyone else.
“No one has told me to indict. And in this case, the decision to indict was made by the Special Counsel,” he said.
In a statement, White House spokesperson Ian Sams described the proceeding as part of “a not-so-sophisticated distraction campaign” by House Republicans meant to “cover up their own actions that are hurtling America to a dangerous and costly government shutdown”.
“They cannot even pass a military funding bill because extreme House Republicans are demanding devastating cuts like slashing thousands of preschool slots nationwide and thousands of law enforcement jobs including border agents, so 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,” Mr Sams said.
The White House spokesperson added that the House GOP wants to “distract from the reality that their own chaos and inability to govern is going to shut down the government in a matter of days, hurting our economy and national security and jeopardizing everything from troop pay to fighting fentanyl”.
“These sideshows won’t spare House Republicans from bearing responsibility for inflicting serious damage on the country,” he said.