Merrick Garland says that the Jan 6 riot is threat of domestic terrorism

Attorney general nominee Merrick Garland said Monday that his first briefing and top priority if confirmed as attorney general would center on the sprawling investigation into the Jan. 6 riot the U.S. Capitol, as he more broadly vowed to stamp out the rising threat of domestic terrorism.

Testifying at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Garland drew parallels to the domestic terrorism threat the Justice Department faced in confronting the Ku Klux Klan and the prosecution he led of Timothy McVeigh in the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. When Garland was last in the Justice Department, he supervised that case.“We are facing a more dangerous period than we faced in Oklahoma City at that time,” Garland asserted, promising a broad investigation into not just the rioters, but those who aided them.

“We begin with the people on the ground and we work our way up to those who are involved and further involved,” Garland said. “And we will pursue these leads wherever they take us.”

Garland, a federal appeals court judge, is expected to be confirmed with bipartisan support, though Monday’s hearing offered Democrats and Republicans a chance to press the nominee on how he will manage the department.

Republicans sought to extract promises of specific investigations and prosecutions in politically sensitive cases, particularly special counsel John Durham’s review of the FBI’s 2016 investigation of former president Donald Trump’s campaign. As Democrats asserted the Justice Department had been politicized in the Trump administration, Republicans aired their displeasure with actions in the Obama administration and asked Garland to assure them he would not return to Obama-era policies.

Garland said he saw “no reason” to end the Durham probe — though he also declined to provide a firm commitment to giving Durham the time and resources to finish his work.Garland told Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) that he had no information on Durham’s investigation, saying that, if confirmed as attorney general, he would speak with the special counsel. Grassley pressed Garland on whether he would only remove Durham “for cause.”

“I really do have to have an opportunity to talk with him. I have not had that opportunity,” Garland responded. “As I said, I don’t have any reason from what I know now — which is really, really very little — to make any determination on that ground. But I don’t have any reason to think that he should not remain in place.”

The exchange seemed to partially mollify Grassley, who said, “I think you’ve come close to satisfying me, but maybe not entirely.” Grassley noted that when then-attorney general nominee William P. Barr appeared before the committee, he had offered a more firm endorsement of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

“It’s vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation,” Barr said at the time.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) asked Garland if he had read a Justice Department inspector general report, which has seemed to form the basis of Durham’s investigation, that was critical of one aspect of the FBI’s investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign: the applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Garland said he had, and his “general take is that there were certainly serious problems with respect to [those] applications, particularly for Mr. Page,” and he supported the examination of that matter. But pressed more explicitly for a full-throated endorsement of Durham, he demurred.

“Do you believe the Durham investigation is a legitimate investigation?” Graham asked.

“I don’t know anything really about the investigation,” Garland responded.

Cabinet nominees often seek to deflect demands for specific actions or policy goals, and Garland’s current job as a federal judge may lead him to be even more circumspect in his answers.

Garland declined to answer when asked about whether he supported carrying out the federal death sentences of those already convicted of crimes, including the defendant in the Boston Marathon bomber and the white supremacist who shot and killed nine members of a black church in 2015.

He said he supported the death penalty for McVeigh and harbored no regrets, but that his views had since evolved. Now, Garland said, he had “great pause” about the death penalty because of its disproportionate impact on Black Americans and other minority communities, and because of the number of defendants being exonerated by new DNA evidence.

He hinted that the Justice Department is likely return to its posture in the Obama administration, when there was a moratorium on executions while officials reviewed the agency’s protocols, even as it continued to seek and win death sentences in some trials. President Biden opposes the death penalty and has said he will work to end its use.

“I expect it’s not at all unlikely that we will return to the previous policy,” Garland said, adding later, “I would not oppose a policy of the president because it is within his authority to put a moratorium on the death penalty in all cases and instead to seek mandatory life without possibility of parole, without any consideration of the facts of any particular case.”

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