WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden’s attorney general nominee Merrick Garland told a Senate committee on Monday he plans to prioritize civil rights and combat domestic terror if confirmed as the top U.S. justice official.
A federal appeals court judge and former prosecutor, Garland appeared Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee and is widely expected to sail through his confirmation process with bipartisan support.
Tuesday, witnesses including Ken Starr will testify about Garland’s confirmation with a vote set for March 1 to advance his nomination to the full Senate.
“The attorney general represents the public interest, particularly and specifically as defined by the Constitution and the statutes of the United States,” Garland said Monday. “I do not plan to be interfered with by anyone.”
Garland, 68, serves as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, one of 13 federal appeals courts. Former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, nominated him to the Supreme Court in 2016, but the Republican-controlled Senate at the time did not hold hearings on the nomination.
Garland’s confirmation this time around is considered a near-certainty, as several key Republican senators have endorsed him.
If confirmed by the full Senate, Garland will inherit the beginnings of a probe into the deadly storming last month of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump, as well as the challenge of preventing future domestic attacks.
Early in the hearing, Garland told the committee he would make the investigation of the Jan. 6 riots a top priority, adding that he feared the incident was “not necessarily a one-off.”
“We must do everything in the power of the Justice Department to prevent this kind of interference with policies of American democratic institutions,” Garland said Monday.
Garland has experience in tackling such threats, having managed the sprawling investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by anti-government extremists and supervising the prosecution of the so-called Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski after a deadly bombing spree.
Garland also faced questioning about his plans to handle specific investigations and politically-sensitive cases, like a federal tax investigation involving Biden’s son Hunter Biden and a special counsel’s inquiry into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, which was started by the previous attorney general William Barr and is still ongoing.
Garland said he had not spoken with Biden about the investigation into his son. He said he had agreed to the nomination as attorney general because the president had vowed that “decisions about investigations and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department.”
He also told Republicans he expects to allow John Durham, who was appointed by Barr to investigate the origins of the investigation into Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, to be able to continue his work.
“I understand that he has been permitted to remain in his position and sitting here today I have no reason to think that that was not the correct decision,” Garland said.
To date, Durham has interviewed officials from the FBI, Justice Department and the CIA regarding the early days of the Russia investigation and produced criminal charges against just one person — a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to altering an email.
Garland said “there were certainly serious problems” with applications for surveillance during the FBI’s Russia investigation and that he intended as attorney general to speak more deeply about the issue with the Justice Department’s inspector general and with the FBI director.
“I am always concerned and have always been concerned that we be very careful about FISA,” Garland said, using the acronym for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
In his prepared remarks, Garland focused on prioritizing policing and civil rights to combat racial discrimination, saying America doesn’t “yet have equal justice.”
“Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system; and bear the brunt of the harm caused by pandemic, pollution, and climate change,” Garland said.
One department change he says will help combat racial discrimination is reforming sentencing guidelines including eliminating the mandatory minimum.
“We don’t have to seek highest possible offense with the highest possible sentence, said Garland. “Legislatively, we should look at equalizing what’s known as the crack powder ratio, which has had an enormously disproportionate impact on communities of color.”
However, Garland told the committee he and the President do not support defunding the police as a reform measure.
“I do really and President Biden believes in giving resources to police departments to help them reform and gain the trust of their communities,” Garland said.
Garland ended his testimony talking about his commitment to restoring the ideals of the Justice department.
“It’s not just that the department has to do justice. It’s that it has to appear to do justice and that the people of the United States have to believe that is does justice,” Garland explained.
You can read Garland’s prepared written testimony below:
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.