Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday that he and the Justice Department “will not be intimidated” by outside pressure on how to do their job, at the outset of a hearing marked by angry Republican questions.
“We will do our jobs free from outside influence and we will not back down from defending our democracy,” Garland said at the beginning of a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill.
“Our job is not to take orders from the president, or congress,” Garland said, in a clear statement pushing back against Republican claims that the Justice Department is biased.
Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, is one of former President Trump’s top supporters in Congress and has used the committee to highlight ways in which he thinks Republicans have been discriminated against by the government.
Jordan accused Garland of overseeing a Justice Department where the investigation of President Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was conducted in such a way to “protect Joe Biden.” He rattled off a long list of details that he said led him to this conclusion.
The top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler, from New York, said that nearly every claim by Jordan had been “completely refuted by witnesses” who have testified before the committee.
Garland, when asked whether Republican rhetoric about Hunter Biden has “any basis in reality,” said, “No, it does not.”
Questions about Hunter Biden
Hunter Biden’s questionable foreign business deals are at the heart of the Republican attempt to impeach President Biden.
In particular, Jordan said that U.S. Attorney David Weiss, a Trump-appointed prosecutor, has gone easy on Hunter Biden. Weiss reached a plea deal with Hunter Biden over the summer on tax evasion and a felony firearm charge, but after that deal fell apart Weiss indicted Hunter Biden this month.
Hunter Biden now faces criminal prosecution on the gun charge. The hearing today will feature many questions to Garland about the Hunter Biden investigation, and the attorney general will have time to respond to them.
Garland said he told Congress during his confirmation that he would keep Weiss in charge of the investigation, and that he would not interfere with his investigation of Hunter Biden.
“I have followed through on that promise,” Garland said.
Garland told Jordan that Weiss is required to file a report about the investigation once it is concluded. Garland told Congress he will make that report public.
“I understand that people may not understand why particular investigations are conducted in particular ways until all the facts come out,” Garland said. But he vowed that the Justice Department “treats everyone alike.”
Garland said that Republican senators insisted to him, during his confirmation hearings in 2017, that Weiss be allowed to continue in his role, and that he respected that request.
Republicans grow frustrated
Republicans on the committee repeatedly talked over Garland as he tried to answer a barrage of questions on different matters, as they grew increasingly frustrated with the attorney general’s insistence that he has not directed or interfered with Weiss and his investigation of Hunter Biden.
At one point, Garland attempted to answer a question asked by Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, only to have Gaetz admit, about his own question, “I already know the answer.”
Republican Rep. Dan Bishop, from North Carolina, even complained that Garland should have interfered with the investigation, despite the fact that much of their argument against the Justice Department is that it has interfered.
“Determination of where to bring cases ... was left to Mr. Weiss,” Garland said.
“That’s part of the problem,” Bishop said.
Defunding FBI would be ‘catastrophic’
FBI Director Christopher Wray, also, has come under fire from Jordan and other Republicans. Wray said in a hearing before the Judiciary Committee in July that is was “insane” to think that the FBI had discriminated against Republicans.
Some Republicans, including Jordan and other members of the Judiciary Committee, such as Gaetz and Rep. Andy Biggs, from Arizona, have even talked about defunding the FBI, which is part of the Justice Department and under the direction of the attorney general.
Garland said that defunding the FBI would leave the country “naked” and exposed to “attempts to assassinate former officials, to Russian aggression, to North Korean cyber attacks, to violent crime in the U.S., to all kinds of espionage, to domestic violent extremists who have attacked our churches, our synagogues, our mosques, and have killed individuals out of racial hatred.”
“I cannot imagine the consequences of defunding the FBI, but they would be catastrophic,” Garland said.
An emotional response on religious discrimination
Hours into the hearing, Garland grew emotional as he responded to what he said was a series of “absurd” questions from Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew, of New Jersey, that called his integrity into question.
Van Drew referred to an internal memo written earlier this year by a Richmond, Va., field office of the FBI that warned against “radical traditionalist Catholic ideology.” FBI Director Wray has called that memo “appalling” and said he “ordered it removed” as soon as it came to light and said it led to no “investigative action.”
But Van Drew blamed Garland for the memo, prompting an impassioned response from the attorney general, whose grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe a century ago to escape antisemitic religious persecution. Two relatives of his were killed in the Holocaust.
Garland, who maintained his composure while many on the dais yelled and interrupted, raised his voice at this point.
“The idea that someone with my family background would discriminate against any religion is so outrageous, so absurd,” Garland said, his voice trembling.
Cover thumbnail photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call from Getty Images