U.S. attorney general defends Hunter Biden investigation under questioning by House GOP
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on Sept. 20, 2023. (Screenshot from committee webcast)
WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans led by Ohio’s Jim Jordan on Wednesday grilled U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland about how the Justice Department has handled its investigation and prosecution of Hunter Biden on felony gun charges.
The questions about the president’s son came after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last week asked several committees, including the Judiciary Committee, which held Wednesday’s hearing, to begin an impeachment inquiry into unproven GOP allegations. Republicans have claimed President Joe Biden profited from his son’s business dealings when he was vice president during the Obama administration.
The White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations, Ian Sams, said in a statement that the hearing was a distraction “from the reality that their own chaos and inability to govern is going to shut down the government in a matter of days,” referring to House Republicans.
“They cannot even pass a military funding bill because extreme House Republicans are demanding devastating cuts like slashing thousands of preschool slots nationwide and thousands of law enforcement jobs including border agents, so they cranked up a circus of a hearing full of lies and disinformation with the sole goal of baselessly attacking President Biden and his family,” Sams said.
The oversight hearing that lasted more than five hours also touched upon the Department of Justice’s handling of those convicted in the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, an investigation into threats made to local school board members, and how the agency would function should the government shut down. Congress is scrambling to broker a short-term spending deal with the White House to avoid a partial government shutdown before a Sept. 30 deadline.
Jordan focused his opening remarks on the DOJ appointment of special counsel David Weiss, who is investigating the Hunter Biden case. Jordan accused the Department of Justice of slow-walking the case and going easy on the president’s son.
“There’s one investigation protecting President Biden, there’s another one attacking President Trump,” Jordan said.
Weiss charged Hunter Biden with two misdemeanor tax offenses and a felony firearm crime. Last week, Hunter Biden was indicted on gun charges.
Democrats on the committee spent most of the oversight hearing defending the Department of Justice, and pointing out that Weiss was a Trump appointee as a U.S. attorney. They also accused Republicans of sowing division and mistrust in the department.
“Rather than try to unite the country, or solve the problems that affect us all, they have sought to exploit our divisions for cynical, personal, political gain,” Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the committee, said in his opening statement. “I implore the public to see through the sham.”
Garland reminded lawmakers on the committee that the Justice Department will remain neutral and fair as it handles cases involving the president’s son and charges against former President Donald Trump.
“We will not be intimidated,” Garland said in his opening statement. “We will do our jobs free from outside influence, and we will not back down from defending our democracy,” he said.
With an end-of-the month deadline to fund the government, Democratic Reps. Nadler of New York and Steve Cohen of Tennessee asked Garland how the Department of Justice would be affected should a government shutdown happen.
“It will certainly disrupt all of our normal programs, including our grant programs to state and local law enforcement and to our ability to conduct our normal efforts with respect to the entire scope of our activities, including helping state and locals fight violent crime,” Garland said.
Special counsel appointment
Numerous Republicans, such as Reps. Scott Fitzgerald of Wisconsin and Dan Bishop of North Carolina, asked Garland why last month he named Weiss special counsel in the Hunter Biden case.
Garland told every lawmaker who asked that question throughout the hearing that the decision to name Weiss special counsel was because it was something Weiss asked of Garland.
Republican Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana asked Garland whether the White House has “provided any direction any time to you personally or to any senior officials at the DOJ regarding how the Hunter Biden investigation was to be carried out?”
Garland said no, and reiterated that he has kept his promise to “not interfere with” Weiss’ investigation.
Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz pressed Garland about Hunter Biden selling his artwork for thousands of dollars. He asked Garland if the department was looking into that.
“How can you guarantee that the people buying that aren’t doing so to gain favor with the president?” Gaetz asked. “He’s become this immediate success in the art world, and his dad is president of the United States. Isn’t that odd?”
Garland said because there was an ongoing special counsel investigation, he could not comment.
Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky was not satisfied with Garland’s answers about the investigation into the president’s son. He accused Garland of being in contempt of Congress.
“We are the committee that is responsible for your creation, for your existence of your department,” Massie said. “You cannot continue to give us these answers. Aren’t you, in fact, in contempt of Congress when you refuse to answer?”
Garland said that he has respect for Congress and for the Constitution.
“The protection of pending investigations and ongoing investigations … goes back to the separation of powers, which gives to the executive branch the sole authority to conduct prosecutions,” Garland said. “It’s a requirement of due process and respect for those who are under investigation and protection of their civil rights.”
Jan. 6 charges
Several Republicans asked Garland questions about those who were charged with attacking the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona asked Garland if the Justice Department had a quota when it came to prosecuting people.
Garland said no, and Biggs asked why the Justice Department announced thousands of people would be charged following the Jan. 6 insurrection that was incited by Trump.
“If a court asks us what the likely workload will be based on prosecutions and investigations that are pending, the U.S. attorney is obligated to respond,” Garland said.
Republican Rep. Barry Moore of Alabama asked Garland how the FBI used geolocation in its charging of people in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Garland said that cell phone data was subpoenaed from the telephone companies.
“The location data was to determine whether people who claim they weren’t inside the Capitol actually were inside the Capitol,” Garland said.
Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Cori Bush of Missouri both thanked Garland for the Justice Department’s prosecution of Jan. 6 rioters.
“It is my firm belief that we have to hold those accountable who tried to destroy our country, including the former president, or we risk losing our country altogether,” Jayapal said.
Bush also did criticize Garland, and said she was concerned about the continued use of solitary confinement in federal prisons.
Garland again had to defend a 2021 memorandum he wrote asking the FBI to meet with local law enforcement to look into threats, intimidation and harassment directed at school officials, teachers, administrators and staff.
The memo was in response to an appeal for help from the National School Boards Association. The organization asked the Justice Department to determine if the threats at school board meetings over school masking requirements, books and curriculum violate a variety of laws, including the PATRIOT Act, which is aimed at deterring terrorism.
Republican Rep. Jefferson Van Drew of New Jersey accused Garland of turning the Department of Justice “into a political weapon.”
“I hold you accountable for the labeling of parents as domestic terrorists, standing up for the proper education of their own children,” Van Drew said.
Garland has never labeled parents as domestic terrorists and has defended his memo, which asks federal law enforcement to meet with local law enforcement to assess the situation and determine if federal aid is needed.
Democratic Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania criticized Republicans for not “conducting legitimate oversight,” and instead using the hearing to defend the former president.
“The blatantly political and misleading rhetoric which we’ve been subjected to today undermines the seriousness of this committee’s work and ultimately the legitimacy and core values of our American institutions,” she said.
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