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  • Pamela Arjona

Merrick Garland Testifies Before the House Judiciary Committee Garland’s Testimony

Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Garland’s Testimony

Attorney General Merrick Garland was subpoenaed in August 2023 to understand the IRS whistleblower testimony and the appointment of David Weiss as special counsel. Shortly before the hearing, then-Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) raised the idea of impeaching Garland over the federal investigation despite repeated confirmation that Weiss is an objective prosecutor. Jim Jordan (R-OH) believes that Mr. Biden has received special treatment from federal prosecutors and hoped to use the Garland testimony, together with testimony from IRS and FBI agents, to prove this. Jordan (R-OH) led the hearing, this being the first time Garland testified before the panel this year.

The hearing took place on September 20, 2023, days after Hunter Biden was indicted of felony gun charges by Weiss. Weiss has maintained oversight of the probe into Mr. Biden, while Jack Smith has been the special counsel in charge of the Trump investigation. Garland answered questions about religion, was grilled by some Democrats about the state of the Justice Department, and kept an overwhelmingly objective demeanor throughout the five-hour questioning session. With McCarthy (R-CA) flaunting the idea of impeachment for Garland and the President, this hearing was bound to heat up.

Chairman Jordan (R-OH) kicked off the hearing strong, asserting that “The fix is in, even with the face-saving indictment of Hunter Biden last week, everyone knows the fix is in.” He implies that the indictment was done purely for public purposes and begins the hour-long saga by showing his clear stance on the Attorney General’s performance. In his opening statement, Garland defended himself and other public officials who will “not back down from defending [their] democracy,” saying their “job is to pursue justice, without fear or favor, our job is not to do what is politically convenient."

Who is Merrick Garland?

In 2016, President Obama nominated Garland to the United States Supreme Court with hopes of filling the vacancy left by Justice Scalia. The Republican-controlled Senate refused to hold a hearing or vote on the nomination, a tactic that was unprecedented in blocking Supreme Court confirmations. The nomination lasted 293 days— the longest to date. While Obama was not able to fill the seat, Trump filled the seat with Neil Gorsuch shortly after his election. President Biden then nominated Garland as US Attorney General in January of 2021, and he was confirmed by the Senate to begin in March.

Investigations into Hunter Biden

Hunter Biden has been under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office since 2018 before his father assumed the office of the President. The inner workings of the legal challenge were kept private until the end of 2020 when Mr. Biden confirmed a probe into his “tax affairs.” There were debates over whether Mr. Biden paid sufficient amounts of taxes concerning his income from multiple avenues. The money that was initially owed has since been paid back.

In June of 2023, Mr. Biden was prepared to plead guilty to misdemeanor tax offenses and evade jail time. This deal would have been the most effective for him considering the additional felony charges pursued by special counsel Weiss for lying on a federal form about drug use when purchasing a weapon.

However, federal judge Maryellen Noreika took the deal off the table and claimed she felt like she would only “rubber stamp” it while not agreeing. The deal offered protection to Mr. Biden by requiring that prosecutors obtain Noreika’s permission to pursue charges if he breached the agreement, increasing further immunity. Noreika requested additional information from both parties; in the meantime, Mr. Biden simply pleaded not guilty.

On September 14, 2023, Weiss charged Biden with two counts of false statements in purchasing a firearm and a third count of obtaining a firearm illegally while addicted to drugs.

Hunter Biden and the House

Republicans in Congress have pursued a long-promised investigation into Hunter Biden and his father as a result of whistleblower claims of corruption. The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep Jim Jordan (R-OH), stated in November that investigations into the presidential family would be a “top priority.” Republicans hope to connect the President to Mr. Biden’s business deals.

The Oversight Committee announced in May that they issued a subpoena to the FBI for a record relating to “an alleged criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Biden and a foreign national relating to the exchange of money for policy decisions.” The document contained an unverified claim that Democrats referred to as a meritless conspiracy theory.

Republicans pledged to further investigate the plea deal that Hunter Biden had agreed to.

President Biden Investigation

Jordan did not shy away from blunt and direct assumptions about the timeline of the Hunter Biden probe, going as far as to accuse the DOJ of letting prosecutors “slow walk” the probe with hopes of fizzling out. Garland reminded Republicans that Weiss had the authority over the case and its timeline, not him. It is also important to note that, as the AG mentioned, “this investigation is being conducted by Mr. Weiss, an appointee of President Trump,” who has already been called to testify for the committee. Garland said that Jordan will have the time to ask questions and address responses in a public report.

Republicans claimed that the Justice Department leverages cases differently for political gain, specifically to aid the Democrats in the upcoming election. Jordan specifically cited IRS whistleblower testimony that Mr. Biden has received preferential treatment. Garland ardently denied taking any orders from the President or the White House in relation to ongoing investigations. He confirmed this by saying that his “job is not to take orders from the president, from Congress, or from anyone else.” In one of the most direct and concise defenses of his position, Garland stated: "As the president himself has said, and I reaffirm today: I am not the president's lawyer. I will add that I am not Congress's prosecutor. The Justice Department works for the American people. Our job is to follow the facts and the law, and that is what we do.”

Jordan inquired into the appointment of Weiss as special counsel with yet another accusation towards Garland, this time for giving inaccurate testimony about Weiss’ jurisdiction. Garland stands by his choice to appoint Weiss. He claims that it ensures objectivity, independence, and integrity to have each investigation delegated by an individual attorney and allows him to take a step back.

Democrats on the committee attempted to defend the Justice Department throughout the hearing and noted multiple times that David Weiss was nominated by Trump. Criticism over the handling of the Biden case could instead be directed towards him, not Garland. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) did not back down from blaming “extreme MAGA Republicans” for using simple oversight work as a ploy to distract from Trump’s legal struggles.

Trump Investigation

The Biden’s were not the only controversial case discussed at the hearing; Garland was also questioned about the Trump investigations and indictments pursued by special counsel Jack Smith— to which he has pleaded not guilty. Republican lawmakers have fought back against the DOJ investigations into Trump, citing mishandlings in the investigation. Garland repeatedly referred questions about specific investigations to the special prosecutors who have oversight over them and confirmed that he was not instructed to charge Trump, despite the comments made by the former president. Republicans assumed this was a ploy to save face and further criticized Smith the same way Trump has— as a political prosecutor.

Now What?

Kevin Buck (R-CO) broke apart from his party and reminded Garland that he “would’ve been criticized either way” if he had acted differently. He went on to say that, “once the Trump administration decided that that was the person leading the investigation, your hands were tied.” Garland aimed to maintain an objective position relating to ongoing investigations and appointments in the wake of harsh criticism from most Republicans. A White House spokesperson referred to the hearing as a “distraction” in which House Republicans have created a “circus” of “lies and disinformation” with no concrete goals. Leading up to the 2024 elections, both parties will likely continue to attempt to discredit each other with the purpose of re-election in sight. This hearing did not bring with it any groundbreaking evidence, but it did show that Republicans will have to dig deeper to find the answers that they are looking for— if they will get them at all.

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