WASHINGTON (CN) — The mood was partisan in the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday, as U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland sat for a marathon session before the panel and faced sharp questioning from some of his strongest congressional critics.
Republicans have long assailed Garland’s credibility, coming after him most recently for his stewardship over the Justice Department as it investigates the business dealings of Hunter Biden, President Biden’s son.
Some GOP lawmakers have attempted to paint the attorney general as beholden to the White House and have accused the Justice Department of being too lenient on the president’s son while pursing more aggressively other cases, such as its indictments against former President Donald Trump.
“There’s one investigation protecting President Biden, and there’s another attacking President Trump,” said Ohio Republican Jim Jordan during a Wednesday hearing in the judiciary committee, which he chairs. “The Justice Department’s got both sides of the equation covered.”
Jordan and his Republican colleagues spent the better part of six hours grilling Garland on an array of the party’s hot-button political issues — limited not just to the Justice Department’s Hunter Biden inquiry. The attorney general, for his part, sought to stake out a position of political neutrality, pushing back on claims from some GOP lawmakers that his agency is emblematic of a “two-tiered system of justice.”
“I am not the president’s lawyer,” Garland said in his opening statement. “I will also add that I am not Congress’ prosecutor. The Justice Department works for the American people.”
The attorney general remained rather stoic in the face of pointed questions from Republicans about his oversight of the Hunter Biden investigation, led by special counsel and U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware David Weiss. Garland on more than one occasion reiterated his desire not to interfere with Weiss’s probe.
Garland did become briefly animated during a combative interaction with New Jersey Republican Jeff Van Drew, who hammered the attorney general about a since-disavowed FBI memo from January in which an agency field office suggested investigating traditionalist Catholic groups.
“The idea that someone with my family background would discriminate against any religion is so outrageous,” said Garland, his voice quavering slightly. “It’s so absurd.”
The attorney general in his opening statement described how members of his family escaped the Holocaust, and explained that his family history inspired him to protect the rule of law in the U.S.
Garland went on to reiterate to Van Drew that he and FBI Director Christopher Wray had denounced the field office letter, calling it “abhorrent.”
Meanwhile, committee Democrats blasted their Republican colleagues for what some lawmakers framed as a “sham” hearing designed purely to massage partisan talking points.
“Rather than try to unite the country or solve the problems that affect us all, [Republicans] have sought to exploit our divisions for cynical, personal political gain,” said New York Congressman Jerry Nadler, the judiciary committee’s ranking member. “They want to divide this country and make our government appear like it’s broken, because that is when their broken political party thrives.”
California Representative Eric Swalwell called the hearing a “clown show” and accused Republicans of focusing on a crusade against President Biden rather than more pressing issues, such as an impending government shutdown brought on in part by GOP infighting.
“It’s the difference between one side that believes in governing, and another side that believes in ruling,” Swalwell said.
White House spokesperson Ian Sams decried Republicans’ hearing as a cry for attention, writing in a statement that the GOP is “running a not-so-sophisticated distraction campaign to try to cover up their own actions that are hurtling America to a dangerous and costly government shutdown.”
Attorney General Garland appeared before Congress less than a week after Hunter Biden was indicted by special counsel on felony gun charges. The younger Biden had previously reached a plea deal with prosecutors on that charge and two separate but related tax evasion charges, but the agreement collapsed in August.
Special Counsel David Weiss is also expected to file new tax charges against the president’s son.Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
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