Merrick Garland rapidly erasing Trump effect at Justice Department
Attorney General Merrick Garland is quickly negating the Trump administration’s law enforcement legacy, dismaying conservatives with a burst of aggressive reversals and new policies.
Why it matters: As a former prosecutor and respected federal judge, Garland's devotion to the rule of law has always been core to his identity. That reputation has taken on new importance in his first 50 days on the job, after four years of allegations that Trump's DOJ was improperly politicized.
- Attorney General Bill Barr played a central role in the Trump administration's most high-profile controversies, from undermining the Russia investigation to intervening in the cases of indicted Trump associates to ordering the forcible clearing of protesters in Lafayette Square Park.
- DOJ's broad authority also overlaps with many of the issues at the top of President Biden's agenda, including restoring faith in government, promoting racial justice and police reform, and curbing gun violence.
Driving the news: Liberal fears that the soft-spoken Garland might resist prosecuting Trump and his allies for the sake of unity were partially eased on Wednesday, when news broke that federal agents had raided the Manhattan home of Rudy Giuliani.
- The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which Giuliani once led, is known to be highly independent.
- But under Attorney General Bill Barr, the department repeatedly blocked SDNY prosecutors from executing a search warrant for Giuliani's electronic records in the final months of 2020, according to the New York Times.
The Justice Department also announced on Wednesday that three Georgia men were charged with federal hate crimes in the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, whose death was a rallying cry during last year's racial-justice protests.
- In Michigan, a superseding indictment was filed against five men accused of plotting last year to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, with prosecutors referring to the alleged crimes as "domestic terrorism" for the first time.
- That shift comes amid new developments in the investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which has been described as the most complex probe in DOJ history. Garland, who played a leading role in the prosecution of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, has vowed to make prosecuting the Capitol rioters his "first priority."
Other major steps taken in Garland's first 50 days include:
- "Pattern or practice" investigations into the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments, following the deaths last year of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
- A 30-day "expedited review" into how DOJ can better prosecute and track hate crimes amid a surge in violence against Asian Americans.
- The revocation of a Trump-era policy that restricted federal funding for "sanctuary cities."
- Responsibility for five of the six executive actions on gun control ordered by Biden.
What to watch: Garland's commitment to depoliticizing DOJ will undergo a key test when a charging decision is made in the case of Hunter Biden, whose finances are under investigation.
- Special counsel John Durham is also expected to submit a report concerning alleged abuses by Obama-era intelligence officials during the Russia investigation.