AG nominee Garland vows Capitol riot will be top priority

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (February 22, 2021) — Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden's attorney general nominee, vowed Monday to prioritize combating extremist violence and said his first focus would be on the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol as he sought to assure lawmakers that the Justice Department would remain politically independent on his watch.

Garland appeared Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee and is widely expected to sail through his confirmation process with bipartisan support.

"The attorney general represents the public interest, particularly and specifically as defined by the Constitution and the statutes of the United States," Garland said. "I do not plan to be interfered with by anyone."

"I have grown pretty immune to any kind of pressure, other than the pressure to do what I think is the right thing, given the facts and the law. That is what I intend to do as the attorney general, I don't care who pressures me in whatever direction," he said.

Early in the hearing, Garland faced questioning about his plans to handle specific investigations and politically sensitive cases, like the federal tax investigation involving Biden's son Hunter Biden, and the special counsel's inquiry started by William Barr, while he was attorney general, into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, which also remains open.

Garland said he had not spoken with Biden about the investigation into his son. He said he had agreed to the nomination as attorney general because the president had vowed that "decisions about investigations and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department."

Garland, though saying he was supportive of transparency and in publicly explaining Justice Department decision-making, declined to commit to making public the results of the Durham investigation. He said under questioning from Sen. Chuck Grassley, the committee's top Republican, that he had not spoken to Durham yet but had no reason to think that former Attorney General William Barr's decision to give Durham special counsel status to remain in his position was "not the correct decision."

To date, Durham has interviewed officials from the FBI, Justice Department and the CIA regarding the early days of the Russia investigation, and has produced criminal charges against just one person — a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to altering an email. Garland said "there were certainly serious problems" with applications for surveillance during the FBI's Russia investigation, and that he intended as attorney general to speak more deeply about the issue with the Justice Department's inspector general and with the FBI director.

"I am always concerned and have always been concerned that we be very careful about FISA," Garland said, using the acronym for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Garland said his first briefing as attorney general would be focused on the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and promised to provide prosecutors with whatever resources they need to bring charges in the cases.

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