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Attorney General Merrick Garland fires back at House GOP contempt threat: 'I will not be intimidated'

Attorney General Merrick Garland fires back at House GOP contempt threat: 'I will not be intimidated'
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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, June 4, 2024.

Anna Rose Layden | Reuters

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday hit back at House Republicans threatening to hold him in contempt, calling their efforts part of a wave of “unprecedented and unfounded” attacks against the Department of Justice.

“I will not be intimidated,” Garland said in his testimony at the start of a hearing before the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee.

“The Justice Department will not be intimidated,” he said. “We will continue to do our jobs free from political influence. And we will not back down from defending our democracy.”

He also pushed back on the swell of conspiracy theories surrounding Thursday’s historic criminal conviction of former President Donald Trump, including the false claim that the guilty verdict by a New York state jury “was somehow controlled by the Justice Department.”

“That conspiracy theory is an attack on the judicial process itself,” Garland said.

His unusually direct rebuke came as House Republicans are moving toward a contempt vote over the DOJ’s refusal to share audiotapes of President Joe Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur, who investigated the president’s handling of classified documents.

Hur found that Biden “willfully” retained classified materials after he served as vice president under Barack Obama. But the special counsel declined to bring criminal charges against the Democratic incumbent.

The Judiciary panel’s hearing Tuesday morning was billed as an examination of how the DOJ under Garland has become “politicized and weaponized.”

“Many Americans believe there’s now a double standard in our justice system,” Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said at the start of the hearing. “They believe that because there is.”

Democrats on the Judiciary panel loudly condemned their GOP colleagues for echoing Trump’s claims that his New York hush money trial was politically motivated and orchestrated by the Biden administration.

“These statements are false, and they are aimed to mislead. They are aimed to inflame. They are dangerous,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa.

“I’m really deeply concerned that our institutions are under attack,” Dean said.

Other Democrats were even more confrontational.

“Guys, I’m starting to think you’re in a cult,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., told the committee’s Republicans at one point.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., quipped that he was “surprised to see the flag in this committee is still flying right-side up.” He was referring to recent reporting that an inverted U.S. flag associated with a pro-Trump 2020 election denial movement was flown at the home of conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

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Garland himself clashed repeatedly with some of the Republican members of the committee over their descriptions of key case documents and other legal matters.

“That’s a false characterization,” the AG told Jordan after the chairman accused special counsel Jack Smith — who is prosecuting Trump in two federal courts — of tampering with evidence in the former president’s criminal classified documents case.

The committee Republicans also hammered Garland and his department over the migrant influx at the U.S. southern border, a top concern of voters in polls of the 2024 presidential election.

The Justice Department is suing Texas over a law that lets state and local authorities arrest migrants who cross the border illegally.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, accused the DOJ of “taking valuable resources to go against the people of Texas,” who he said are taking action on the border because the federal government is “refusing” to do so itself.

Garland replied that his department is challenging Texas because of legal precedent barring states from adopting their own immigration laws.

Garland maintained throughout the hearing that the GOP’s contempt effort was unwarranted.

He said in his opening testimony that “certain members” of the Judiciary and Oversight committees “are seeking contempt as a means of obtaining — for no legitimate purpose — sensitive law enforcement information that could harm the integrity of future investigations.”

“This effort is only the most recent in a long line of attacks on the Justice Department’s work,” Garland said.

He pointed to recent congressional threats to defund the ongoing prosecution of Trump by Smith, as well as “baseless and extremely dangerous falsehoods” being spread about the FBI.

“We are seeing heinous threats of violence being directed at the Justice Department’s career public servants,” Garland said.

“These repeated attacks on the Justice Department are unprecedented and unfounded,” he said, but “these attacks have not, and they will not, influence our decision-making.”

“I view contempt as a serious matter,” he said. “But I will not jeopardize the ability of our prosecutors and agents to do their jobs effectively in future investigations.”

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