US Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Tuesday that he would be stepping away for a “minimally invasive” medical procedure and passing his duties along to his deputy attorney general, Lisa Monaco.
Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa did not give specifics on the medical reason for Mr Garland’s period of leave, but did note that he would be under general anesthesia for the procedure.
"The delegation of his duties will go to the Deputy Attorney General shortly before the procedure, during the procedure, and for a brief period following the procedure to allow for recovery from general anesthesia," she said.
Mr Garland’s announced absence comes after the Department of Defense was caught up in a media frenzy over the revelation that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had been hospitalised for a procedure to treat prostate cancer and passed his duties on to a deputy without notifiying the White House or the public — President Joe Biden had apparently been unaware of his Cabinet secretary’s hospitalisation for several days. Republican members of the House, eager to embarrass the president in an election year, have called an investigation into the matter.
That semi-scandal led to an official change in procedure wherein Cabinet-level officials are now required to report absences to the White House.
“Agencies should ensure that delegations are issued when a Cabinet Member is traveling to areas with limited or no access to communication, undergoing hospitalization or a medical procedure requiring general anesthesia, or otherwise in a circumstance when he or she may be unreachable,” White House chief of staff Jeff Zients wrote in a memo distributed throughout the government.
Mr Garland’s agency is currently leading an unprecedented prosecutorial effort to charge thousands of pro-Trump insurrectionists who were involved in the storming of the US Capitol on January 6 in a failed attempt to halt the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. More than 1,200 alleged participants in the attack have already been charged in federal court, and more than 700 have already pleaded guilty. Dozens more have been found guilty at trial.
His agency also recently announced a surging of resources to aid local authorities in Washington DC with efforts to battle a rise in carjackings and violent crimes.