Takeaways from Merrick Garland’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee

Attorney General Merrick Garland appeared defiant Tuesday as he spent hours fielding questions from lawmakers on a range of topics, occasionally sparring with Republican House members seeking to use his testimony to attack the Justice Department.

Over the course of a roughly five-hour-long hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Garland defended the department’s work and role in several high-profile criminal cases, including those brought against former President Donald Trump and Hunter Biden.

Garland’s testimony comes as Republican lawmakers have argued that the Justice Department is being weaponized against conservatives and just a few weeks after the GOP-led House Judiciary Committee and Oversight Committee voted to advance contempt proceedings against the attorney general for his refusal to turn over audio recordings of President Joe Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur.

“I view contempt as a serious matter,” Garland said at one point on Tuesday. “But I will not jeopardize the ability of our prosecutors and agents to do their jobs effectively in future investigations.”

Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s hearing:

‘I will not be intimidated’

Garland devoted a considerable part of his opening remarks to making clear that he was unmoved by the “unprecedented” attacks lobbed on his department in recent months.

“These repeated attacks on the Justice Department are unprecedented, and they are unfounded,” he told lawmakers. “I will not be intimidated, and the Justice Department will not be intimidated. We will continue to do our jobs, free from political influence, and we will not back down from defending democracy.”

“Nothing will deter me from fulfilling my obligation to uphold the rule of law,” he said. “Fulfilling that obligation includes ensuring that the Justice Department respects Congress’ important role in our democracy.”

Garland said that while the department will not provide the audio recordings sought by the GOP lawmakers, it has “gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the committee gets responses to its legitimate requests for information,” including providing transcripts of the interview with Biden.

The DOJ has argued that the specific privacy concerns related to an audio recording of an interview are distinct from those of a written transcript, and how the release of such an audio file could dissuade cooperation from future witnesses in criminal investigations.

CNN has sued for access to recordings of federal investigators’ interview with Biden in the now-closed probe over his handling of classified documents.

Hush money case looms large

Trump’s conviction last week in the New York hush money case loomed large during Tuesday’s hearing. Lawmakers repeatedly brought it up, and Garland emphasized that DOJ is “completely independent” from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.

House Republicans have continued to claim without evidence that Biden has used his DOJ to target Trump, including through the New York case.

“The Manhattan District Attorney has jurisdiction over cases involving New York state law, completely independent of the Justice Department, which has jurisdiction over cases involving federal law,” Garland said.

“We do not control the Manhattan District Attorney,” he continued. “The Manhattan District Attorney does not report to us. The Manhattan District Attorney makes its own decisions about cases that he wants to bring under his state law.”

A New York jury convicted Trump last week on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment scheme he helped facilitate ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Defending Jack Smith’s appointment

During one particularly tense exchange on Tuesday, Committee Chairman Jim Jordan pressed Garland on his choice of Jack Smith to serve as special counsel in the Justice Department’s probes into Trump. Those probes eventually led Smith to bring two criminal cases against the former president in Washington, DC, and Florida.

“I appointed somebody who is not a political appointee. Somebody who was independent, nonpartisan with a record of career experience as a prosecutor. That seemed to me the perfect resume,” Garland said during the testy back and forth Jordan.

“Did he ask for the job?” the Ohio Republican asked at one point. “This is not a job – I don’t think anybody asks for,” Garland replied with a laugh.

Later, Jordan asked Garland if he regretted picking Smith.

“No, I do not regret picking him,” Garland shot back.

The Hunter Biden split screen

As the hearing unfolded on Capitol Hill, jurors in Hunter Biden’s gun trial in Delaware heard opening statements in the case. Appearing to seize on the split screen moment, some lawmakers used their time to bring up the president’s son and his legal woes.

When GOP Rep. Ben Cline asked Garland if he spoke with the president’s son when they were both in attendance at a state dinner at the White House in May, Garland said, “I have never spoken to Hunter Biden in my life as far as I know.”

Garland also denied various accusations that Cline brought forward about DOJ’s handling of the case into the president’s son and maintained that he cannot discuss ongoing legal cases.

When asked if he attempted to obstruct the criminal investigation into Hunter Biden, Garland said, “absolutely not.”

Democratic push back

For their part, Democrats spent much of their time heaping praise on the Justice Department and defending its actions amid attacks on the DOJ from their Republican colleagues.

As House Republicans repeatedly accused DOJ of improperly targeting allies of Trump, Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu listed off people around Trump who were prosecuted under the previous Republican administration.

Those individuals included Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, former lawyer Michael Cohen, former advisor Roger Stone, fundraiser Elliott Broidy – all of whom were prosecuted under attorneys general nominated by Trump himself.

“It is not the fault of the Department of Justice that Donald Trump has surrounded himself with criminals,” Lieu said. “Trump brought that upon himself.”

Lieu also noted that President Biden’s son Hunter is being prosecuted “in federal court right now” by Garland’s Justice Department.

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