September 20, 2023
Attorney General Garland Set to Face his GOP Critics as Justice Department is under Heavy Scrutiny
Farnoush Amiri READ TIME: 3 MIN.
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday is set to come face-to-face with his most ardent critics as House Republicans prepare to use a routine oversight hearing to interrogate him about what they claim is the "weaponization" of the Justice Department under President Joe Biden.
Garland is appearing before the House Judiciary Committee for the first time in two years and at an unprecedented moment in the Justice Department's history: He's overseeing two cases against Donald Trump, the first former president to face criminal charges, and another against the sitting president's son, Hunter Biden.
"Our job is not to take orders from the president, from Congress, or from anyone else, about who or what to criminally investigate," Garland will say, according to prepared remarks.
Republicans on the committee were tight-lipped about what they planned to ask Garland, telling The Associated Press on Tuesday that they wanted to keep that under wraps until the hearing.
But Garland will likely face tense and heated questions about the Trump and Hunter Biden criminal cases, forcing him to defend the country's largest law enforcement agency at a time when political and physical threats against agents and their families are on the rise.
"All of us at the Justice Department recognize that with this work comes public scrutiny, criticism, and legitimate oversight. These are appropriate and important given the gravity of the matters before the department," Garland will say, according to his prepared remarks. "But singling out individual career public servants who are just doing their jobs is dangerous – particularly at a time of increased threats to the safety of public servants and their families."
Democrats say they plan to "act as kind of a truth squad" against what they see as Republican misinformation and their ongoing defense of Trump, who is now the Republican front-runner to challenge Biden in next year's election. They say Republicans are trying to detract attention from the indicted former president's legal challenges and turn a negative spotlight on Biden.
"I'll be using this opportunity to highlight just how destructive that is of our system of justice and how once again, it is the GOP willing to undermine our institutions in the defense of their indefensible candidate for president," Rep. Adam Schiff, a senior Democrat on the committee, told the AP.
Garland's testimony also comes just over a week after Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., launched an impeachment inquiry into his boss, Biden, with a special focus on the Justice Department's handling of Hunter Biden's yearslong case.
The White House has dismissed the impeachment inquiry as baseless and worked to focus the conversation on policy instead. Hunter Biden's legal team, on the other hand, has gone on the offensive against GOP critics, most recently filing suit against the Internal Revenue Service after two of its agents raised whistleblower claims to Congress about the handling of the investigation.
Republicans contend that the Justice Department – both under Trump and now Biden – has failed to fully probe the allegations against the younger Biden, ranging from his work on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma to his tax filings in California and Washington D.C.
"I am not the President's lawyer. I will also add that I am not Congress's prosecutor. The Justice Department works for the American people," Garland is expected to say.
An investigation into Hunter Biden had been run by the U.S. Attorney for Delaware, Trump appointee David Weiss, who Garland had kept on to finish the probe and insulate it from claims of political interference. Garland granted Weiss special counsel status last month, giving him broad authority to investigate and report his findings. He oversees the day-to-day running of the probe and another special counsel, Jack Smith, is in charge of the Trump investigation, though Garland retains final say on both as attorney general.
Last week, Weiss used that new authority to indict Hunter Biden on federal firearms charges, putting the case on track toward a possible trial as the 2024 election looms.
The Republican chairmen of the Oversight, Judiciary, and Ways and Means committees launched an investigation into Weiss' handling of the case, which was first opened in 2018 after two IRS agents claimed in congressional testimony in May that the Justice Department improperly interfered with their work.
Gary Shapley, a veteran IRS agent assigned to the case, testified to Congress that Weiss said in October 2022 that he was not the "deciding person whether charges are filed" against Hunter Biden. That testimony has been disputed by two FBI agents also in that meeting who told lawmakers that they have no recollection of Weiss saying that.