Updated Sep 20, 2023 - Politics & Policy

"I am not the president's lawyer": Garland defends DOJ before House GOP

Merrick Garland

Attorney General Merrick Garland during a hearing of the House Committee on the Judiciary on Sept. 20. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Attorney General Merrick Garland defended the Justice Department's independence Wednesday during a lengthy House Judiciary Committee hearing that touched on the investigations into Hunter Biden and former President Trump.

Driving the news: "I am not the president's lawyer. I will add I am not Congress' prosecutor. The Justice Department works for the American people," Garland told the committee, which is led by chair Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

  • "No one that I know of has spoken to the White House about the Hunter Biden case," Garland said.

Catch up quick: Garland announced in August that he was appointing U.S. Attorney for Delaware David Weiss, a Trump appointee, as special counsel to lead the investigation into Hunter Biden.

  • Hunter Biden was indicted earlier this month, following a scuttled plea deal, on three counts related to his alleged illegal possession of a firearm. He will plead not guilty to those charges, his attorney said this week in a letter to the judge in the case.
  • Garland repeatedly insisted during questioning that he has not interfered with Weiss' investigation into Hunter Biden.
  • Garland also pushed back against Republican questioning on the fairness of appointing Weiss to oversee the Hunter Biden probe, pointing out more than once that Weiss was appointed U.S. Attorney by Trump.

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) was one of the few Republicans to defend Garland during the hearing, noting that Garland would have been criticized no matter what actions he took with regard to the Hunter Biden probe.

  • "If Garland, upon becoming attorney general, had asked for Weiss' resignation, he would have been accused of obstruction. Had Garland removed Weiss a year later for moving too slowly, he would have been accused of interference," Buck said.
  • "You would have been criticized either way," Buck said.

The big picture: Garland's appearance comes shortly after the House GOP opened an impeachment inquiry into President Biden — and offered insight into how those proceedings could unfold ahead of an initial hearing set for next week.

  • The inquiry followed Republicans' ongoing probe into the president's involvement with the business dealings of his son Hunter — though they've uncovered no substantial evidence of a pay-to-play scheme between the president and his family.
  • House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) threatened earlier this summer to open an impeachment inquiry into Garland over the probe into Hunter Biden, claiming Garland was weaponizing the DOJ.

Meanwhile, grand juries convened by Garland-appointed special counsel Jack Smith have indicted Trump two times, over alleged mishandling of classified documents and efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

  • House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) announced earlier this month that he had launched an inquiry into Smith's office over accusations of prosecutorial abuse.
  • Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
  • During the hearing, Garland noted that Smith's work on the Trump investigations "can be measured by what he actually has filed. Everyone in the country can see the indictments."

Of note: Garland also disputed Trump's claim during a recent interview with NBC News that Biden instructed Garland to indict him.

  • Garland said "the decision to indict was made by the special counsel."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout. It has also been corrected to reflect one reference of Garland's remarks taking place on Wednesday, not Tuesday.

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