February 22, 2021

Merrick Garland is finally getting his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Monday. Not for the original position for which he was nominated by President Barack Obama—the Supreme Court—back in 2016, but for attorney general under President Joe Biden. The chair and ranking member of the committee, Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Chuck Grassley, each brought up that contemptible episode when Republicans under Mitch McConnell refused, for eight months, to consider his nomination. "I want to welcome you back to the Senate Judiciary Committee," Durbin said. "I know this return trip has been a long time in planning and you're here, finally."

Grassley was, let's say, less gracious. "It was an election year with a divided Congress," Grassley said, excusing the blockade. Then the nasty. "Yes, it's true I didn’t give Judge Garland a hearing. […] I also didn't mischaracterize his record. I didn't attack his character. I didn't go through his high school yearbook." Given that there aren't multiple allegations of rape against Garland going back decades, no, that would not have been appropriate. Ah, unity.

At the outset of the hearing, Durbin acknowledged Garland's unique qualifications for this particular moment in time: his service as a top official in the Clinton Justice Department investigating the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people. "When you are confirmed, Judge Garland, you, along with the rest of this nation, will continue to grapple with the January 6th attacks," Durbin said. "As nation’s chief law enforcement officer, you will be tasked with the solemn duty to responsibly investigate the events of that day, to prosecute all of the individuals responsible and to prevent future attacks driven by hate, inflammatory words, and bizarre conspiracy theories," Durbin continued, not really asking a question.

Garland responded that he believes the current situation is "more dangerous" than Oklahoma City, and that the investigation in the attempted coup and insurrection will be his "first priority." He elaborated on that in answer to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He called the insurrection "the most heinous attack on the Democratic processes that I have ever seen and one I never expected to see in my lifetime." He said that he will ensure that career prosecutors working on the investigation "all the resources they could possibly require." Garland also pledged to cooperate with congressional probes into the family separation policy from the previous administration. "I think that the policy was shameful. I can't imagine anything worse than tearing parents from their children. And we will provide all the cooperation that we possibly can," he told Durbin.

Grassley had one major concern: was Garland going to keep on with the Trump-era probes by John Durham, the special counsel into that other special counsel investigation by Robert Mueller on Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the investigation by Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss, who is heading an investigation involving Hunter Biden's taxes. Garland was noncommittal in response. He told Grassley "I don't have any information about the [Durham] investigation," and said of the existence of the Durham probe, "I have no reason to think that was not the correct decision. […] I don't have any reason to think he should not be in place." He said he had not spoken with Durham and would only dismiss Durham and the probe for cause. As for whether he might have talked with President Biden about the Hunter Biden probe? "The answer to your question is no." Garland told Grassley that he would leave decisions regarding the Hunter Biden probe to others in the department.

The attacks on the Congress and the rise of the white supremacist insurrectionists are key. In his opening statement Garland pledged "If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6th, a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government." He's well-positioned to do so. "This almost feels like a precursor. How much more experience could you possibly have in domestic terrorism?" said Donna Bucella, a former Justice Department official who also worked on the Oklahoma City case. "He'll be very methodical. I think he'll demand it's being done the right way."

Republished with permission from Daily Kos.

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