Attorney General Merrick Garland testified Wednesday at a high-stakes House Judiciary Committee hearing in which Republican lawmakers lambasted his department’s handling of former Presidents Donald Trump, President Joe Biden and Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, the events of January 6 and other matters. High profile investigation.
“The fix is done,” Ohio Republican Party Chairman Jim Jordan said at the start of the hearing. “Despite last week’s face-saving indictment of Hunter Biden, everyone knows a resolution is on the horizon.”
Jordan has repeatedly accused Garland of “going slow” on the Hunter Biden investigation to benefit President Biden.
But Garland addressed criticism of his tenure head-on in his opening statement, calling efforts by some Republicans to target career officials “dangerous” at a time when threats against public servants are growing.
“We will not be intimidated,” Garland said. “We will do our work without outside interference. We will not back down from defending our democracy.”
It was Garland’s first hearing with lawmakers since special counsel Jack Smith indicted Trump on his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, the ranking Democratic member of the committee, countered in his opening remarks that “extreme Republicans have poisoned our vital oversight efforts” in an attempt to distract from the legal troubles facing the former president. .
Garland said Wednesday that he had not been directed to charge Trump after being pressed about the former president’s comments last weekend about Biden directing the attorney general to take action.
“No one told me to prosecute, and in this case, the decision to prosecute was made by the special prosecutor,” Garland said.
Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him and denied any wrongdoing.
Hunter Biden and the Investigation into President Biden
Garland’s testimony comes nearly a week after special counsel David Weiss, also appointed by Garland, charged Hunter Biden with a felony firearm after a dispute between Weiss and Hunter Biden’s attorneys. The plea deal fell apart in court in July.
Garland is full of questions about the timeline of the Hunter Biden investigation. In an exchange, Rep. Jordan leveled several accusations against Hunter Biden and Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company on which Hunter Biden serves on the board, accusing the Justice Department of letting prosecutors “slowly move forward” on the investigation.
The attorney general emphasized that he gave Weiss the authority and independence to prosecute as he saw fit.
“There is also the important fact that this investigation was conducted by Mr. Weiss, who was appointed by President Trump,” Garland responded. “In due course, you will have an opportunity to ask Mr. Weiss that question, and he will undoubtedly address it in his public report to Congress.”
Garland also pushed back against Republican claims that the Justice Department is seeking to tip the political balance toward Democrats ahead of the 2024 election and strongly denied that he ever received any direction from President Biden or the White House on any criminals. investigation.
“It is not our job to take orders from the President, Congress or anyone else on who or what to pursue criminal investigations,” Garland said. “As the President himself has said, and I reiterate today: I am not the President’s attorney. I will add One thing, I’m not a congressional prosecutor. The Department of Justice serves the American people. Our job is to follow the facts and the law, and that’s what we do.”
Several Republicans on the committee, including Jordan, have previously threatened to launch impeachment proceedings against Garland over the department’s handling of the Hunter Biden criminal investigation.
Jordan cited congressional testimony from IRS whistleblowers who claimed the president’s son received preferential treatment from investigators, and Garland’s past congressional testimony claiming Weiss was given final authority to make charging decisions. is inaccurate.
Both Garland and Weiss disputed the whistleblower’s claims in letters to Congress.
Garland argued that his appointments of all three special counsels represented a commitment to ensuring the integrity and independence of each investigation, an assertion he reiterated in response to questions from Republicans who sought to Paint them as evidence of the politicization of the Justice Department.
“Our job is to pursue justice without fear or favor,” Garland said. “Our job is not to do what is politically convenient.”
The third special counsel appointed by Garland, Robert Hur, continues to investigate documents marked confidentially that were discovered at President Biden’s home in Delaware and at a post-vice presidential think tank in Washington. Condition.
Hunter Biden has yet to enter a plea in his case, although his lawyers said they would contest the charges filed last week. President Joe Biden has denied wrongdoing in his handling of classified material and vowed to cooperate fully with special counsel Hull’s investigation.
White House spokesman Ian Sams called the hearing a “distraction” and said House Republicans “manufactured a hearing filled with lies and disinformation for the sole purpose of baseless attacks.” President Biden and his family.”
A heated exchange about the Catholic memo
In one particularly heated exchange, Garland and Rep. Jeff Van Drew discussed a report written by an analyst at the FBI’s Richmond field office about the agency’s “radical tradition.” Catholic memos clashed. Both FBI Director Christopher Wray and Garland immediately recalled the document and said it did not represent the department’s sentiments toward Catholics.
Garland pushed back on Van Drew’s questions about the memo, sometimes raising his voice.
“The idea that someone of my background would discriminate against any religion makes us so angry, it’s ridiculous,” Garland said. During his opening statement Wednesday, Garland spoke of how his family fled He choked up as he spoke about religious persecution in Eastern Europe and why it affected his job as a public servant.
Call for defunding the FBI
Democrats on the committee asked Garland about threats to federal agents and the impact of calls by some Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates to defund the FBI.
“Defunding the FBI would expose the United States to the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party, Iranian attacks on U.S. citizens, attempts to assassinate former officials, Russian aggression, North Korean cyberattacks, and violent crime in the U.S. , the FBI helps counter all kinds of espionage, domestic violent extremists who attack our churches, our synagogues, our mosques, and kill individuals out of racial hatred,” he said. “I can’t imagine the consequences of stopping funding to the FBI, but it would be catastrophic.”
Ray Epps’ accusations
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., questioned Garland about the misdemeanor charges against Ray Epps that the Justice Department announced Tuesday. Epps, a former Oath Keeper, became the subject of conspiracy theories around Jan. 6, in which Republicans claimed he was a federal undercover agent. Massey called Epps’ charges a “joke” compared to others indicted for their role in the Capitol attack and asked Garland how many government assets were present that day.
“In the case filed on January 6th, the Department of Justice prosecutors provided all the information they have regarding the questions you asked,” Garland responded to the crowd. “Concerning Mr. Epps, the FBI states that he is not an FBI employee or informant.”
ABC News’ Alexandra Herzler and Sarah Beth Hensley contributed to this report.