US Attorney General slams Republicans for attacks on Justice Department

Merrick Garland tells Republicans on House committee that he 'will not be intimidated'

US Attorney General Merrick Garland. EPA
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US Attorney General Merrick Garland condemned Republicans on Tuesday for what he described as attacks on the Justice Department.

“I will not be intimidated,” Mr Garland said during his appearance before the House judiciary committee.

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

During the hearing, led by allies of Donald Trump, Mr Garland condemned as a “conspiracy theory” the claim that the department was behind the New York state court prosecution that led to the former Republican president's conviction last week on 34 felony charges.

His unusually fiery testimony was a forceful defence of the independence and integrity of the Justice Department at an unprecedented moment in which it is prosecuting Trump and President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

Mr Garland described a Republican effort to hold him in contempt as the latest in “a long line of attacks” on the Justice Department that “have not, and they will not” influence the department's decisions.

Republicans used the hearing to push the claim that Mr Biden has used the department to go after Trump.

“Many Americans believe there’s now a double standard in our justice system,” Representative Jim Jordan said during the hearing.

"They believe that because there is."?

Trump – who is charged in two criminal cases brought by the Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith – has cast himself as the victim of a politically motivated legal system as he campaigns for re-election.

Since his conviction in the New York trial last week, he and his supporters have increased their attacks on the criminal justice system, criticising prosecutors, the judge and the jury.

Mr Garland described that unsupported assertion as an “attack on the judicial process itself”.

“I have devoted my entire career to ensuring that the rule of law is the rule that the Justice Department applies and the courts apply – that we follow the precedents, that we treat like cases alike, that we do not have enemies or friends, that we do not pay attention to the political parties or the wealth, or the power, or the influence that we are investigating,” he said.

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Shortly after the hearing began, House Speaker Mike Johnson announced a “three-pronged” plan to address what he described as the “weaponisation” of the justice system against Trump.

Mr Johnson said it would look to circumvent the authority of the Justice Department and local prosecutors in the former president's case through legislation, funding and oversight.

If Trump wins a second term in November, his allies have pledged to stack the Justice Department with loyalists who will do his bidding.

He has said he wants to use the department to pursue his own political rivals – the very thing Republicans now accuse the Justice Department of doing.

Democrats, meanwhile, defended the Justice Department, noting that it is prosecuting two Democratic politicians: Senator Bob Menendez and Representative Henry Cuellar, in addition to Hunter Biden.

“You can be the former president of the United States, but if you commit crimes you will be held responsible. That's his problem,” said Democrat Adam Schiff.

“That's the problem of all of my Republican colleagues right now, and that is they're about to nominate a convicted felon, and they don't know how to cope with that.”

Updated: June 04, 2024, 11:09 PM