Garland pushes Republicans on ‘dangerous’ rhetoric

Attorney General Merrick Garland struck a more forceful tone with the House Judiciary Committee, challenging Republican rhetoric he at different turns called “false” and “dangerous.”

That pushback from the mild-mannered attorney general came as Republican interest has piqued into investigations into former President Trump, particularly those led by district attorneys.

Garland was also battered over his decision to not release tapes of President Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur — even as it’s unclear when the GOP will vote on a pending resolution to censure him.

Sparring over Trump’s conviction

Trump’s recent conviction by a New York jury on charges related to concealing hush money payments ahead of the 2016 election was a top focus of Republicans during the hearing, despite the fact that the Justice Department had nothing to do with the state-level prosecution of the former president.

Garland took a strong stance against Republicans who have been railing against the Justice Department in the wake of the verdict, calling such claims a “conspiracy theory” that serves as “an attack on the judicial process itself.”

“The case in New York was brought by the Manhattan district attorney independently, of his own volition, on his own determination of what he believed was a violation of state law,” Garland said.

“I do not control the Manhattan district attorney. The Manhattan district attorney does not report to us. The Manhattan district attorney makes his own decisions about cases he wants to bring under state law. “

But Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said Garland wasn’t doing enough to comply with their requests seeking records for any coordination among the Justice Department and state prosecutors.

“You come in here, and you lodge this attack that it’s a conspiracy theory that there’s coordinated lawfare against Trump. And then when we say, ‘Fine, just give us the documents, give us the correspondence’ and then if it’s a conspiracy theory that will be evident,” Gaetz said.

“But when you say, ‘Well, we’ll take your request, and then we’ll we’ll sort of work it through the DOJ’s accommodation process,’ then you’re actually advancing the very dangerous conspiracy theory that you’re concerned about.”

At another turn, Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-Ore.) complained about the numerous state and federal cases against Trump.

“I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think people of United States think it’s fair, that a former president would be ganged up on if you will, by both the federal government and state government. That does not seem right.”

But Democrats on the committee asserted that Trump is facing numerous prosecutions as a result of his own behavior.

Rep. Jerold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the panel, said Republicans were using Garland’s appearance to “create an outlet to spew more ridiculous conspiracies.”

“That’s why they held a hearing on what they’ve termed ‘lawfare’ — the ridiculous assertion that the Department is somehow orchestrating state prosecutions of the former president for criminal activity that has been well-documented,” Garland said.

Garland fires back at Trump assassination claims

Garland also addressed false claims from Trump that the Justice Department had green-lit his assassination by including its standard use of force policy in preparing for a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago.

The use of force policy that has been blasted by Trump as permission to “take me out” is something Garland said is “routinely part of the package for search warrants.”

“The document that’s being discussed is our standard use of force protocol, which is a limitation of the use of force, which is routinely part of the package for search warrants and was part of the package for the search of President Biden’s home as well,” during his classified documents probe, Garland said.

The statement Trump has pointed to allows deadly force “only when necessary,” such as when someone “poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.”

Trump nonetheless fundraised off of the use of force policy, claiming at various turns that both the Justice Department and even President Biden “was authorized to shoot” him.

Addressing the claim directly, Garland said the “allegation is not true.”

During his opening remarks, Garland also took a veiled jab at Trump’s claims, saying “baseless and extremely dangerous falsehoods are being spread about the FBI’s law enforcement operations.”

Contempt in balance

Garland appeared before the committee just weeks after its members voted to hold him in contempt of Congress after refusing to turn over audio of Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur during his classified documents probe.

Biden claimed executive privilege over the audio files on the eve of the committee’s meeting, which was followed by another from the House Oversight Committee on the same matter.

And the Justice Department has resisted turning over the tapes, arguing that Republicans already have the transcript of the conversation, which shows it has no overlap with the many areas of their impeachment inquiry they say they need the audio files for.

Garland cast the effort to censure him as “only the most recent in a long line of attacks on the Justice Department’s work.”

“Releasing the audio would chill cooperation with the Department in future investigations.  And it could influence witnesses’ answers if they thought the audio of their law enforcement interviews could be broadcast to Congress and the public,” Garland told lawmakers.

GOP lawmakers offered up numerous reasons they needed the tapes.

Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) said they would show “demeanor evidence” of Biden’s character during the interview.

And Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said the audio could offer telling insight as to whether pauses were “one minute, two minutes long” and whether Biden stumbled over his words.

“The transcript may be accurate. But you know what? The audio will tell us so much more,” he said.

Biggs was later chided by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) who said his interest in seeing whether Biden repeated words was a way of mocking the president’s difficulty with stuttering.

At various turns during the hearing, Garland told lawmakers he has yet to see a valid legislative purpose behind their professed need for the audio.

“I understand why you would rather hear the audio than listen and read the transcript,” Garland said in one of the hearing’s more diplomatic exchanges, with Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.).

“I still do not understand the legislative purpose. I can’t see how listening to the audio will make any difference, with respect to any legislation you have in mind… There’s no element of the impeachment resolution that will change with respect to information on the audio. The words are the same and the transcript as the audio, that’s my explanation,” Garland said.

While both Oversight and Judiciary have marked up the resolution to hold Garland in contempt of Congress, the effort has been lingering as it’s unclear whether the GOP has the support to pass the resolution with such slim margins.

House GOP leadership has yet to announce a schedule to vote on the matter.

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