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AG Garland Testifies Before GOP-Led House Judiciary Committee. Aired 10:30-11a ET
Aired September 20, 2023 - 10:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not aware, but that's not true. There's nothing cumbersome about the process. All I need to --
REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): So, those whistleblowers were lying to us under oath? Those whistleblowers are lying?
GARLAND: I didn't say that. Their description of the process cumbersome is an opinion. It's not a fact question. All I have to do is sign --
JOHNSON: OK. All right.
GARLAND: -- a section --
JOHNSON: Let me get to the fact. Mr. Weiss has been the lead prosecutor on the Hunter Biden case since 2018, correct?
GARLAND: I'm sorry?
JOHNSON: Mr. Weiss has been the lead prosecutor on the Hunter Biden case since 2018. Now, here's the question --
GARLAND: Been the lead prosecutor since he was assigned -- appointed by President Trump --
JOHNSON: OK. Why?
GARLAND: -- in a signed --
JOHNSON: Let me ask you, why has the Justice Department dragged this investigation out for so long? Does it really take years to determine if Hunter Biden lied on a federal forum related to purchasing a firearm?
GARLAND: Mr. Weiss was a longtime career prosecutor. President Trump appointed him as --
JOHNSON: You're not answering the question. Is that standard procedure? Should it take that long to make such a simple determination?
GARLAND: I'm answering the question. Give me the opportunity to do so. JOHNSON: OK.
GARLAND: He was charged with that investigation under the previous administration. He's continued. He knows how to conduct the investigations and I have not intruded or attempted to evaluate that because that was the promise I made to the Senate.
JOHNSON: The whistleblowers gave us testimony about serious misconduct of the Justice Department in regards to the preferential treatment afforded Hunter Biden. Has your office requested an investigation into that?
GARLAND: There are well-known processes for how whistleblowers make their claims. I am a strong proponent of whistleblowers and a strong defender. We have an inspector general's office. We have an office of professional responsibility. That is the way in which complaints from whistleblowers should be and are appropriately handled.
JOHNSON: I'm out time. I yield back.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The Chairman yields back. The chair recognizes the ranking member, Mr. Nadler.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thank you.
Mr. Attorney General, thank you for being here today. It's no secret that some of my colleagues across the aisle have threatened to shut down the government unless and until the FBI and the Department of Justice are defunded. When Trump lied -- presidential candidate has said we should abolish the FBI altogether. Mr. Attorney General, what would be the impact on America of defunding the FBI?
GARLAND: Defunding the FBI would leave the United States naked to the maligned influence of the Chinese Communist Party, to the attacks by Iranians on American citizens, and attempts to assassinate former officials to the Russian aggression, to North Korean cyberattacks, to violent crime in the United States which the FBI helps to fight against, to all kind of espionage, to domestic violent extremists who have attacked our churches, our synagogues, our mosques and who have killed individuals out of racial hatred. I just -- I cannot imagine the consequences of defunding the FBI, but they would be catastrophic.
NADLER: Thank you. I want to turn to Mr. Weiss' investigation and the authority he's been granted to conduct an investigation without interference in whatever way he deems necessary. You testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 1st of this year that David Weiss had, "Full authority over any investigation concerning Hunter Biden." Is that a true statement at the time?
GARLAND: Yes, Mr. Weiss has full authority to conduct his investigation however he wishes. And Mr. Weiss has confirmed that in letters to this committee.
NADLER: Thank you. This authority included in ensuring that Weiss would be able to bring charges and jurisdictions outside of Delaware, if necessary, is that correct?
GARLAND: Mister -- I assured that Mr. Weiss publicly that he would have the authority to bring a case outside of Delaware if he thought that was appropriate.
NADLER: Does that remain true today?
GARLAND: Yes, that is true today.
NADLER: Has it ever been the case over course of this investigation that Mr. Weiss would not have been able to bring charges outside of Delaware if warranted?
GARLAND: It's a matter of my authority. I promised he would be able to do that. I think it is apparent in the letters exchanged with the committee and in my last previous testimony in order for a United States attorney or a special counsel or anyone else to bring a case outside his jurisdiction. He requires me to sign a paper called Section 515, that's a statute which permits bringing cases outside of the jurisdiction. I promised that I would do whatever was required to enable Mr. Weiss to bring a case outside his jurisdiction if that's what he thought was appropriate.
NADLER: And I assume it was your understanding that Mr. Weiss was fully aware that he could bring charges outside of Delaware, if necessary, when you testified on March 1st?
GARLAND: Mr. Weiss has said so in the letters he sent to this committee.
NADLER: Thank you. Did he ever say or do anything that might make him unsure of where he could bring charges?
GARLAND: Mr. Weiss' own letters reflect that he had never asked me to be a special counsel and that he understood the process for asking for a signature on a Section 515 form.
NADLER: There have been accusations that the handling of the Hunter Biden matter is an example of two-tiered system of justice. What's your response to that allegation?
GARLAND: The Justice Department treats everyone alike regardless of party, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of wealth. Everyone is treated alike. I understand that people may not understand why particular investigations are conducted in particular ways until all of the fact comes, out and that's what we have a court for and all of the explanations will come out with respect to Mr. Weiss, for example, at the end of his period as special counsel. Where the requirement is that he file a public -- a report which I have promised to make public to the extent that's lawful and consistent with the Department of Policy. He will explain his decision to prosecute and not to prosecute.
NADLER: Thank you. What are the impacts of members of Congress making such accusations against the DOJ, through baseless accusations from government officials making it more difficult for investigators to do their job and effectively investigate the subject?
GARLAND: Members of the Justice Department are strong and tough, and able -- understand that their job is to do the right thing regardless of any pressures from any order. What is dangerous -- and I'm not talking about the committee, but what is dangerous is when anyone singles out a career prosecutor or a career FBI agent. And we know as a matter of fact that that kind of singling out has led to threats. This is a concern across the board. It is not a concern about anyone in particular.
NADLER: I think you would have been justified in referring to the committee. My time has expired. I yield back.
JORDAN: The Chairman yields back. The chair recognizes the gentleman from North Carolina.
REP. DAN BISHOP (R-NC): Mr. Attorney General, you're the only person who could ensure that Mr. Weiss had all of the necessary authority, aren't you?
GARLAND: I'm the only person who can sign an agreement with respect to special counsel. The authority to do Section 515 can be signed by other people in the department.
BISHOP: You were aware, ultimately, though, the authority is yours.
BISHOP: You made the point that you don't take orders from the president about such things. You decide, ultimately, what the Justice Department will do.
GARLAND: I announced at the beginning, I promised that he would be able to bring whatever cases he wants, and I have followed through on that promise. I'm permitted to make that kind of promise, and I have made it.
BISHOP: Did you undertake to inform yourself to interact with him sufficient to ensure that he knew he possessed that authority or that you would see to it that he had all necessary authority.
GARLAND: I don't think there is any doubt that he knew. He has written three letters to this committee indicating that he understood he had that authority.
BISHOP: You are also aware though, aren't you, sir, that an -- a senior IRS investigator, whistleblower came forward and testified publicly that Mr. Weiss stated that he did not have such authority. He was not the decider. Are you aware of that?
GARLAND: I'm aware of the testimony. I was not present at any point during that statement. And Mr. Weiss --
BISHOP: Have you -- GARLAND: -- has -- Mr. Weiss who was present has indicated that he
had the authority and he knew that he had it.
BISHOP: Subsequent to those developments, though, you decided to make Mr. Weiss special counsel which you had not done before.
GARLAND: Mr. Weiss made clear he did not ask me to be special counsel until last month. And last month I made him special counsel.
BISHOP: Did you have some lack of information that you should have had that would have caused you to act earlier to make him special counsel?
GARLAND: Mr. Weiss did not ask to be special counsel before.
BISHOP: I understand he didn't ask. You said that, sir. Did you take the necessary steps to inform yourself what authority he understood he had or what obstacles he was encountering?
GARLAND: Look, Mr. Weiss had, as I said from the beginning, at the very beginning that he had the authority over all matters that pertained to Hunter Biden.
BISHOP: Have you learned that he was, in fact, deterred by decisions of the United States Attorneys and the District of Columbia and the Northern District of California from proceeding as he thought best.
GARLAND: With Respect, Congressman, Mr. Weiss has said -- has not said that he was deterred. He said that he followed the normal processes of the department, and that he was never denied the ability to bring a case in another jurisdiction.
BISHOP: Well, what changed, then, Mr. Attorney General? What made you decide that it was sufficient to leave him in the situation he was until you decided to make him special counsel?
GARLAND: Mr. Weiss asked for that authority, given these extraordinary circumstances of this matter and given my promise that I would give him any resources he requested. I made him special counsel.
BISHOP: So, until that time, was it just a matter of his predilection or did you undertake to investigate and discern what he was doing with his authority and what -- and whether he had faced any obstacles?
GARLAND: I did not endeavor to investigate because I had promised that I would not interfere with his investigation. The way in -- to not interfere is to not investigate an investigation.
BISHOP: Once he requested to be named special counsel, having not done so over months and months of your tenure, did you ask him what had changed that made him now need to be a special counsel?
GARLAND: Mr. Weiss asked to be made special counsel. I had promised that I would to give him all of the resources he needed and I made him special counsel.
BISHOP: When did the Justice Department permit statutes of limitations to expire on some of the perspective charges against Hunter Biden for tax violation?
GARLAND: I don't know anything about the statute of limitations here. The investigation was in the hands of Mr. Weiss to make the determines that -- determinations that he thought were appropriate.
BISHOP: Are you aware the tax -- the statute of limitations have in fact been allowed to expire after there having been tolling agreements in place?
GARLAND: I'm going to say again, the determination of where to bring cases and which kinds of cases to bring was left to Mr. Weiss.
BISHOP: Yes, sir. I understand that you've said that. That's part of the problem. The question is, are you aware the statutes of limitations have been allowed to expire while the matter was under investigation?
GARLAND: The investigators were fully familiar with all of the relevant law --
BISHOP: I'm not asking for the excuses. I'm asking whether you're aware of that fact, sir.
GARLAND: I'm going to say again. I'm going to say again and again, if necessary. I did not interfere with. Did not investigation. Did not make determinations --
BISHOP: See, those are statements in response to other questions. Everybody in the country now knows who is paying attention to this that the Justice Department permitted statutes of limitations to expire. Every lawyer who's ever practiced understands the implications of allowing statutes of limitations to expire.
BISHOP: Prosecutors --
BISHOP: Do you not even know as you sit here whether it occurred or not?
GARLAND: Prosecutors make appropriate determinations on their own. In this case, I left it to Mr. Weiss whether to bring charges or not. That would include whether to let statute of limitations to expire or not. Whether there was sufficient evidence to bring a case that was subject to the statute of limitations or not. Whether there were better cases to bring or not.
JORDAN: The time of the gentleman has expired. The chair now recognizes the gentlelady from California.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): And thank you, Attorney General, for being here with us this morning. You know, as much as we see dirt being thrown in the air, there's a lot of misinformation that I think is intended to confuse people. I would like to ask unanimous consent to put into the record three letters from Mr. Weiss that he sent to Congress on June 7th, June 30th and July 10th.
JORDAN: Without objection.
LOFGREN: He said over and over again that he has full authority over this case, including the ability to seek special counsel or special attorney status if needed. You know, trying to imply otherwise is just simply false. Mr. Weiss was appointed by Then-President Trump. Your decision was to leave the Trump-appointed attorney completely in charge of this. Hands off from you. He makes all the calls without interference from the attorney general, is that correct?
GARLAND: That is correct.
LOFGREN: And so, the idea that you would interfere is completely wrong. And I would also like to ask -- you talked about your independence from the president, but also your independence from the Congress. Have you ever come across, historically, an instance where the Congress of the United States tried to or successfully interfered with a prosecution initiated by the Department of Justice based on the facts and the law?
GARLAND: I want to be gentle about the word interfere, but it is just as a historical example in the case of Iran-Contra.
The consequences of actions by the Congress were that the special counsel's investigation of Iran --
GARLAND: -- of Mr. North, were dismissed.
LOFGREN: Correct. Before I go into another question I have, I just would like a unanimous consent to put into the record the annual statistical transparency report dated April of 2023. It indicates that the D duplicated counting method for FBI queries of U.S. persons under the Section 702 Database numbered over 119,000. I would just like to note --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection.
LOFGREN: -- and we will work with you. This committee on a bipartisan basis is very concerned about querying of the 702 Database for U.S. persons without a warrant. We're not suggesting that the law does not permit that, but we are going to visit this issue because it is my view that querying the 702 Database that has been collected without due process because it relates to foreign individuals is completely wrong in terms of the privacy rights of Americans. And I just -- I'm hoping that we can work successfully with you as we craft requirements for a warrant to do that hearing (ph).
I'd like to ask, you know, as we know, and has been mentioned by the ranking member, the proposal is basically to defund the police by the Republicans, to defund the FBI. I am concerned that if we defund the police as the majority has suggested, that really does have an impact on the statute of limitations. So, if we were to defund the Department of Justice, defund the FBI and the police as has been suggested. What would happen with the statute of limitations for cases that you were pursuing if you were not able to actually do that? Would they be suspended in any way or would the criminals get off scot-free?
GARLAND: Well, I know on my experience as a judge if I was asked a legal question and I don't know the answer, I would go back to the office and study it and I'll have to do that in this case. I don't have the answer.
LOFGREN: Well, I think I do because there's nothing in the statute that allows for the statute of limitations to be suspended because the government has been shut down or because the police have been defunded through the budget process. And I just think we ought to take the implications of a shutdown very seriously in terms of allowing criminals to get off. And I see that my time has expired, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back.
JORDAN: The gentlelady yields back. The chair recognizes himself.
"Mr. Weiss has full authority to bring cases in other jurisdictions if he feels it's necessary." That was your response, Attorney General, to Senator Grassley's question on March 1, 2023, just referencing when Mr. Bishop was questioning you. Only problem is he'd already been turned down by the U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia and Mr. Graves. So, he didn't have full authority, did he?
GARLAND: I had an extended conversation with Senator Grassley at the time. We briefly touched on the Section 515 question and how that process went. I've never been suggested --
JORDAN: My point is real simple, Mr. Garland. You said he had complete authority, but he had already been turned down.
GARLAND: He can't be --
JORDAN: He wanted to bring an action into the District of Columbia and the U.S. attorney there said, no, you can't. And then you go tell the United States Senate under oath that he has complete authority.
GARLAND: I will say again that no one had the authority to turn him down. They could refuse to partner with him. They could not --
JORDAN: You can use whatever language refuse to partner is turning down.
GARLAND: Well, it's not the same under a well-known Justice Department practice.
JORDAN: Here's why the statute of limitations question is important that Mr. Bishop was getting at just a few minutes ago. Here's why it's important. You let the statute of limitations lapse for 2014-2015. Those were the years with the felony tax charges where Hunter Biden was getting income from Burisma. Here are four facts that I think are so important.
Hunter Biden was put on the board of Burisma. Made a lot of money. Got paid a lot of money over those years, a couple million bucks. He wasn't qualified. Fact number two, he wasn't qualified to be on the board of Burisma. Not my words, his words. He said he got on the board because of his last name. The brand as Devon Archer said when he was under oath and we deposed him. Fact number three, Burisma executives told Hunter Biden, we're under pressure. We need help. Fact number four, Joe Biden goes to Ukraine, leverages our tax money. American people's tax money to get the prosecutor fired who was applying the pressure.
Interestingly enough that fact is entirely consistent with what the confidential human source told the FBI and they recorded in the 1023 Form.
The same form Mr. Wray didn't want to let this committee and the Congress see. That all happened. That all happened. And what I'm wondering is why you guys let the statute of limitations lapse for those tax years that dealt with Burisma income?
GARLAND: There's one more fact that's important and that is that this investigation was being conducted by Mr. Weiss, an appointee of President Trump. You will, at the appropriate time, have the opportunity to ask Mr. Weiss that question and he will no doubt address it in the public report that will be transmitted to the Congress. I don't know the answer to those questions.
JORDAN: Did they forget -- did the lawyers just, like, let it -- did they just, like, oh, darn, we let it -- did -- were they careless?
GARLAND: I expect that won't be what he says, but because I promised --
JORDAN: You know that's not the case because as Mr. Bishop pointed out they had a tolling agreement. They had -- they talked to Hunter Biden's defense counsel and say, let's extend the statute of limitations. And then at some point they made an intentional decision to say, we're going to let the statute of limitations lapse. And I want to know who did that and why they did it.
GARLAND: Mr. Weiss was a supervisor of the investigation at that time and in all times. He made the appropriate decisions and you'll be able to ask him that question. And he will --
JORDAN: You know they did it? Everyone knows why they did it. You may not say it, but everyone knows why they did it. They -- Burisma -- those tax years -- that dealt with the -- that involved the president. It's one thing to have a gun charge in Delaware, that doesn't involve the president of the United States. But Burisma? Oh, my. That goes right to the White House. We can't have that. And we can slow walk this thing along. We can even extend the statute of limitations and then we can intentionally let it lapse. And we know this investigation was slow. Here's what everyone said, Shapley said, DOJ slow walked the investigation. Ziegler, slow walking in the approvals of everything. This happened at the Delaware attorney's office and DOJ tax level. Mr. Sobocinski, the FBI agent said, I would have liked to think -- see things move faster. Ms. Holly said the same. Every witness we've talked to said this thing was slow walked and we know why.
You slow walked it long enough to let the statute of limitations run so they wouldn't have to get into Burisma. Tell me where I'm wrong.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the gentleman yield?
JORDAN: No, I'm asking Mr. Garland the question.
GARLAND: I think I've tried to make clear that I don't know the specifics of the investigation. Much of what you are describing occurred during the Trump administration, during a Justice Department appointed by President Trump.
JORDAN: No, it didn't. This is four and a half years -- this investigation. We're talking about the last few years. Your statement was just this year, March 1st to Senator Grassley.
GARLAND: No, I'm sorry. I was trying to respond to your description of what the IRS agent said about certain case --
JORDAN: The statute of limitations is six years, that lapsed here in the Biden administration.
GARLAND: On the statute of limitations, I will say again, that the explanation for why the statute of limitation was lapsed, if it was, has to come from Mr. Weiss.
JORDAN: My time is -- but let me ask one last question real quick here. Who decided that David Weiss would stay on as U.S. attorney?
GARLAND: Look, this occurred at -- before I came. Mr. Weiss had been kept on. I promised the --
JORDAN: No, I didn't say you can walk all through that. The White House decided.
GARLAND: Mr. Weiss --
JORDAN: They serve at the pleasure of the president, right?
GARLAND: Mr. Weiss was --
JORDAN: Joe Biden decided to keep David Weiss as U.S. attorney. You weren't sworn in until March. He was -- they -- he was told he was going to stay on until February.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, your time has expired.
JORDAN: Pretty fundamental question. Who decided David Weiss is going to stay on as U.S. attorney general in Delaware?
GARLAND: Mr. Weiss was --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, your time has expired.
JORDAN: Mr. Chairman, your time has expired.
JORDAN: I'm waiting for an answer now and I'll yield.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you asked the question after your time had expired already. Point of order.
JORDAN: The gentleman can respond and I'll go to Ms. Jackson Lee.
GARLAND: Mr. Weiss was the special -- U.S. attorney for the district of Delaware when I came on. He'd been appointed by President Trump. I promised that he would be permitted to stay on for this investigation and that is what happened.
JORDAN: The Texas --
NADLER: Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman.
JORDAN: The gentleman from New York is recognized.
NADLER: Mr. Chairman, I believe you misquoted the -- from the transcript of the Senate hearing. I therefore ask you unanimous consent to enter into the record for the Senate hearing.
JORDAN: Without objection, but I did --
NADLER: Thank you.
JORDAN: -- end this quote with -- Ms. Lee from Texas recognized for five minutes.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): Mister -- thank you, Mr. Chairman.
None of the Republicans' goals today include solving Americans' problems of which they are concerned of. There are many reasons, Mr. Attorney General, that prosecutors decline to bring charges. One of those reasons is that they don't have any evidence for a conviction. That is the justice way. That is just in America.
So, let me raise these questions and concerns with you today.
As we all know, Republicans have repeatedly alleged that the DOJ and FBI are conspiring to shield the Biden family from public criticism and giving Hunter Biden special treatment in its investigations. They have demonized law enforcement officials working with this case at every turn, which has directly led to increase threats against FBI officials, law enforcement of which they pretend to support.
I want to place into the record two excerpts from recent transcribed interviews and I would ask that a copy be made available to you. The first is from a June interview with Jennifer Moore, FBI's former executive assistant director of human resources. She told this committee that FBI had received so many threats that it had to stand up an entire 10-person unit just to deal with them. She said it is unprecedented. It is -- it's a number we have never had before. More testimony in pages 202 to 203.
The second excerpt is from an interview earlier this month with Thomas Sobocinski, the special agent in charge of FBI's Baltimore field office. Here's what he said, I joined the FBI 25 years ago. I joined for a reason. To protect the American people. Uphold the constitution. I've been to war. My family has been in bad places. My kids have been evacuated from war zones or Quasi war zones. I've been in bad things. I have accepted that. I am solely focused on two things and they're not mutually exclusive. The first is like every investigation. I want to get to a resolution in a far apolitical way.
The second thing, it's becoming more important and more relevant is keeping my folks safe. And that part, I've never expected to have to be able to be concerned about keeping family safe so that for me this is becoming more and more of a job that I have to do and take away from what I was assigned or signed up to do which was to investigate and do these things. So, when you talk about potential frustrations, with communication, I am personally frustrated with anything that places my employees and their families in enhanced danger. Our children, their children did not sign up for this.
Mr. Attorney General, do you agree that politically charged rhetoric claiming that law enforcement agents -- and I have many questions if you can be brief, are corrupt and contribute to this onslaught of threats against public servants?
GARLAND: OK. As I said in my opening statement, we have had an astounding number of threats against public servants over the last several years. I think that when career public servants in the Justice Department and in election workers, and airline crews, when they are singled out this can lead to threats of violence and actual violence.
JACKSON LEE: Thank you.
GARLAND: We have the actual example of an attack on an FBI office by somebody who was incensed by political rhetoric. This does happen. We must not allow that to happen in this country.
JACKSON LEE: Does the rhetoric regarding the Biden case have any basis in reality?
GARLAND: I'm sorry, I didn't hear the first part.
JACKSON LEE: Does the rhetoric regarding the Biden case have any basis in reality?
GARLAND: No, it does not.
JACKSON LEE: How does this impact FBI and DOJ employees' ability to do their work? I think you -- specifically, FBI and DOJ employees. GARLAND: As I've already said, the agents of the FBI and the prosecutors understand that criticism comes with their job, and they will continue to do their jobs without fear or favor. But the idea of threatening their safety or that of their families is just abhorrent.
JACKSON LEE: Thank you. And I assume that provisions have had to be in place to protect these agents and their families?
GARLAND: I'm sorry. I didn't hear the first part.
JACKSON LEE: I assume that provisions or protections have had to be in place to protect these agents and their families.
GARLAND: Yes, that's correct.
JACKSON LEE: Let me move on. Thank you very much, Attorney General.
Let me move on to the fentanyl crisis and I want to introduce HR 4272. But let me just put on the records so that you can probably summarize and I ask for the indulgent of my chair. But in any event that the FBI, the DOJ are focused, needle-point focused, if you will, on the crisis of fentanyl. I want to just raise that for you and then I'm just want to follow up with one or two other questions if you would be able to comment on these collectively.
I am dealing with the crisis of human trafficking and prioritizing of America's children. They are under siege. And the level of child of sexual abuse materials generating into human trafficking, and I want to put HR 30 on the record, indicates from ICAC that there are 99,000 IP cases where they are enticing children and maybe only one percent of them being investigated, I'd like your comment on that.
And finally in the approach of high -- of Yom Kippur to emphasize the work that is hopefully still being doing with antisemitism, Attacks on immigrants, and African-Americans and Latinos.