Attorney General Merrick Garland appeared Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee amid several ongoing controversies. Garland was pelted with questions on everything from reproductive rights to two recently appointed special counsels to school board meetings.
Garland’s appearance before the Judiciary Committee in the Democrat-controlled Senate marks the attorney general’s first trip to Capitol Hill this year. It follows after ongoing investigations into former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden have been in the spotlight in recent months.
The attorney general’s statement touched on issues ranging from work to protect abortion rights across the country, efforts to combat the increase in hate crimes and violent crime and the department’s partnering with the Ukrainian government against Russian aggression.
“Every day, the 115,000 employees of the Justice Department work tirelessly to fulfill our mission: to uphold the rule of law, to keep our country safe, and to protect civil rights,” said Garland.
Garland praised agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshalls, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation who “put their lives on the line to disrupt threats and respond to crises” and praised the Justice Department employees’ efforts to guard national security and “our country’s democratic institutions.”
“Every day, in everything we do, the employees of the Justice Department adhere to and uphold the rule of law that is the foundation of our system of government,” said Garland.
Garland faced aggressive questioning from Republicans who are waging war against the “weaponization” of the Justice Department.
Four-hour-long hearing focused on several controversies
Attorney General Garland’s almost four-hour-long hearing before the Judiciary Committee was peppered with several tense exchanges.
At one point, the AG engaged in a back-and-forth exchange with GOP Senator John Kennedy about claims that the Department of Justice is trying to interfere with parents’ rights to complain about schools.
The main point of contention is over a directive from Garland that drew comparisons between parents and “domestic terrorists.”
“Didn’t you understand the chilling effect it would have in parents when you issued your directive — when you directed your criminal divisions and counter-terrorism divisions to investigate parents who are angry at school boards and administrators during Covid?” asked Kennedy.
“I did not do that. I did not issue any memorandum directing the investigation of parents who are concerned about their children,” shot back Garland, and added that the memo stated, “that vigorous public debate is protected by the First Amendment and the kind of concerns that you’re talking about, as expressed by parents are of course completely protected.”
Garland added, “This is about the third time I’m being asked about the same memorandum, and each time I’ve said, and I hope that the senators would go ahead and advise their constituents in the same way, that this is not what we do.”
“We are not in any way trying to interfere with parents making complaints about the education of their children,” said Garland.
Garland was also grilled by Utah GOP Senator Mike Lee about the lack of charges for demonstrators who protested for weeks in front of the residences of several Supreme Court Justices after the leaked opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade under the law that bans “picketing or parading” in front of the home of a federal judge.
“It is concerning to me,” said Lee. “When you show up at the home of a public official, you’re sending the message of implicit violence.”
The attorney general maintained he needed to find out if the department had brought any cases under the statute. However, he said the “thing that mattered” was his move to order the U.S. Marshals Service to protect the justices and their homes 24 hours per day.
“No attorney general ever ordered that before. And no Justice Department had ever done that before,” said Garland.
“They are on site, but their priority job is protection,” said Garland. “That is why when someone did come to assault Justice (Brett) Kavanaugh, he had to walk — go away from where they were because there were two marshals in front of the house — and eventually he self-reported (himself).”
How the U.S. Marshals handled the alleged attempted assassination against Kavanaugh has been investigated. The man accused of planning the attack was only captured after he texted his sister, and she called 911.