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Senate oversight hearing puts feet of Biden’s DOJ to the fire

Attorney General Merrick Garland appeared before lawmakers hungry for answers about the future of the war in Ukraine and other controversies.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Testifying for the first time this year since the Senate Judiciary Committee acquired Democratic leadership, Attorney General Merrick Garland still faced heat from Republicans now in the minority.

In one tense exchange with Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican called it "pretty bold" of Garland to state unequivocally that Russia is committing crimes against humanity.

The Kremlin brought war to neighboring Ukraine one year ago last month, and Garland spoke about his support for the creation of a body like the International Criminal Court to prosecute war crimes of aggression. Indeed the development of such a thing is already underway at the Hague, which has been home since 2002 to the court created by the Rome Statute.

“There are concerns that we have to take into account,” Garland said, “with respect to how it might deal with our own service members in other circumstances. We have to be sure that the appropriate guardrails are up.”

Graham also asked Garland if he would oppose designating Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. The attorney general did not reject the suggestion but noted that the cartels are already designated and sanctioned in several different ways under U.S. law.

“I wouldn’t oppose it,” Garland said, “but I would point out there are diplomatic concerns — we need the assistance of Mexico in this.” The attorney general noted later in the hearing that he met earlier this year with officials from the Mexican government to discuss high-level security issues.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, pressed Garland on what the department is doing to help police departments in the United States that are struggling to hire and retain officers.

The attorney general pointed to the roughly $100,000 in grants that the Department of Justice has designated for police departments in the last fiscal year to help with retention and resource allocation. In the upcoming fiscal cycle, the department will dole out another $200,000.

“We know how much difficulty they’re having … in terms of grants and resources to help,” Garland said.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz was among Republicans at the hearing to accuse the Department of Justice of political bias under Garland’s direction.

Cruz claimed Garland “did nothing” when the Supreme Court's conservative supermajority faced angry mobs outside their home after a leaked early copy of the Dobbs decision showed that they planned to overturn Roe v. Wade, the longstanding precedent that codified the right to abortion precedent.

Garland insisted meanwhile that his response was not only tangible but unprecedented.

“I did something that no attorney general in the history of the department had ever done before," Garland said. “For the first time in history, I ordered United States marshals — 24-7 — to defend every residence of every justice.”

Before Garland could finish his answer, Cruz interrupted him and asked whether the department has filed any cases charging the protesters.

Garland responded: “Senator, you asked me whether I sat on my hands and quite the opposite, I sent 70 Unites States —”

Cruz cut him off again, insisting Garland was refusing to answer the question about whether any charges have been filed against protesters.

“The answer is no,” Cruz said, “You know it’s no. I know it’s no. Everyone knows it’s no.”

Garland eventually conceded that was true, telling the senator, “as far as I know, we haven’t [brought a case].”

When Cruz tried to label the failure to prosecute as evidence of political bias, Garland maintained that arrests are carried out at the discretion of the marshals.

Another leak — in this case an internal FBI memo that warns of the extremist threat posed by radical traditionalist Catholics — brought additional bias claims from Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri.

Garland insisted the FBI is not targeting Catholics and reiterated that he has previously called the memo “inappropriate.”

Senator Marsha Blackburn accused Garland of having two tiers of justice within the department: one for people with conservative values and people of faith, and another for “the Washington political elite.” 

The Tennessee Republican claimed that the Department of Justice has not been cooperating with the House Judiciary Committee, now that its leader is a Republican. Chairman Jim Jordan is still waiting for documents related to the special counsel investigation into the potential mishandling of classified Obama-era records by President Joe Biden. Blackburn said this is at odds with the access to department records enjoyed by the Democrat-led House committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

Garland said the department respects requests from both sides of the political aisle and “at the same time — we have to protect our ongoing investigations.” 

The attorney general also promised to make sure the investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter, will be free of political interference. It is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware. 

On the topic of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is set to expire at the end of the year, Garland said he supports the law's renewal.

Without the government’s secret surveillance court, Garland said, “we would be intentionally blinding ourselves to extraordinary danger.”

Just this past Tuesday, the Biden administration touted FISA as necessary to protect national security.

The attorney general’s testimony on Wednesday lasted for nearly five hours.

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