(Bloomberg) -- Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general, “is a good pick to lead the Department of Justice,” the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee said at the opening of the judge’s confirmation hearing.
The comment from Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who called Garland well-qualified, was an early indication that Garland will receive bipartisan support when the nomination reaches the Senate floor.
Underscoring the full agenda of issues Garland would face, Senator Dick Durbin, the committee’s new chairman, said he would take the lead in prosecutions stemming from the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and in preventing future threats of domestic terrorism.
“As the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, you’ll be tasked with the solemn duty to responsibly investigate the events of that day, to prosecute all of the individuals responsible and to prevent future attacks driven by hate, inflammatory words, and bizarre conspiracy theories,” the Illinois Democrat said.
In prepared opening remarks, Garland also highlighted the assault on the Capitol.
“If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 -- a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government,” Garland said.
Garland also signaled he’ll make decisions independently from Biden. “The president nominates the attorney general to be the lawyer -- not for any individual, but for the people of the United States,” he said in the brief prepared testimony of less than three pages.
Former President Donald Trump openly pressed his attorneys general, Jeff Sessions and William Barr, to protect him and his associates from prosecution and to go after his political enemies. Biden has said he’ll let his attorney general make the tough calls on touchy matters -- including pending investigations of his son, Hunter Biden, and inquiries touching on Trump.
In the testimony released Saturday night, Garland indicated that, if confirmed, he’ll seek to restore policies and practices the department developed before the Trump administration, including those that the nominee said protect the agency “from partisan influence in law enforcement investigations,” those that “strictly regulate” communications with the White House and those that respect the professionalism of career employees.
Just getting a hearing for the cabinet post will be vindication for Garland almost five years after Senate Republicans blocked consideration of his nomination to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama.
Garland made no reference in the testimony to calls for him to consider criminal charges against Trump for inciting the Capitol attack, a possibility that has been advanced not only by Democrats but also by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
In the testimony, Garland also said the Justice Department’s civil rights mission is “urgent because we do not yet have equal justice.”
“Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system; and bear the brunt of the harm caused by pandemic, pollution, and climate change,” said Garland, 68, who has been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia since 1997.
During his previous time at the Justice Department, Garland oversaw high-profile domestic terrorism prosecutions, including for bombings in Oklahoma City and at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
He first served in the department as a special assistant in President Jimmy Carter’s administration before going into private practice. He returned to the department for a brief stint in 1989 as an assistant U.S. attorney.
In 1993, he became a deputy assistant attorney general in the department’s criminal division and then was promoted to be a top aide to the deputy attorney general.
Biden has nominated Lisa Monaco to be deputy attorney general and Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general, rounding out the leadership team. Monaco spent more than a decade at the Justice Department and was homeland security adviser in the Obama administration. Gupta headed the department’s Civil Rights Division under Obama.
The Judiciary Committee has yet to schedule confirmation hearings for Monaco and Gupta.
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