BY: ALEXANDER MALLIN, LUKE BARR, AND ALLISON PECORIN, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general was confirmed Wednesday by the U.S. Senate.
His confirmation comes nearly five years to the day since he was nominated by President Barack Obama to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was never given a confirmation hearing by Senate Republicans who said Scalia’s successor should be picked by the winner of the 2016 presidential election.
Garland will assume leadership of a department, and its more than 115,000-strong federal workforce, emerging from four years of being at the center of multiple politically charged controversies during the Trump administration — in addition to being the target of a barrage of attacks from former President Donald Trump himself.
Facing questions on the need for independence in the department during his confirmation hearing last month, Garland told senators that the attorney general is “not the president’s lawyer,” while noting that as part of the executive branch he will follow Biden’s lead on policy matters “as long as it is consistent with the law.”
Garland added he hoped his tenure will “turn down the volume” at the Justice Department, removing it from the day-to-day political disputes that run through Washington. He said he wants to return to the days when the department does its law enforcement and criminal justice policy — and that this is viewed in a bipartisan way.
“I know that these are divisive times, I’m not naive,” he said. “But I would like to do everything I can to have people believe that that’s what we’re doing.”
Garland, who has been serving as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, also worked in the Clinton Justice Department, overseeing the prosecution of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in the 1990s. Chief among Garland’s initial priorities will be a briefing on the department’s sprawling investigation into the pro-Trump rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
As of this week, more than 300 suspects have been federally charged related to their role in the riot with more than 285 individuals arrested.
“It looks like an extremely aggressive and perfectly appropriate beginning to an investigation,” he said, adding that the United States is currently facing “a more dangerous period” than the nation faced when he was overseeing the investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing.
“I intend to make sure that we look more broadly — to look at where this is coming from, what other groups there might be that could raise the same problem in the future and that we protect the American people, and I know that the FBI director made the same commitment,” Garland said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a Senate hearing last week that the bureau currently has roughly 2,000 open domestic terrorism cases, more than double than in 2017 — the bulk of which he said are considered “racially motivated” violent extremists.
Garland also said during his hearing he expects to meet soon with John Durham, the special counsel appointed by former Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate the origins of the FBI’s probe of the Trump campaign in 2016 and its ties to Russia.
Several Republicans have sought assurances from Garland that he won’t move to fire Durham before allowing his team to finish their work.
“I don’t have any information about the investigation,” Garland said. “I understand he has been permitted to remain in his position, and sitting here today, I have no reason to think that that was not the correct decision.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware also has an open investigation into President Biden’s son Hunter over possible tax fraud. Garland told senators he has never discussed the matter with Biden and said “decisions about investigations and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department.”
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