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AG Garland Testifies Before GOP-Lead Judiciary Committee. Aired 11:30a-12p ET
Aired September 20, 2023 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Maybe they're not listening, Nick, did they -- if that was what they were after, did any of it land based on what they ask? Sorry, here we go. Just now, they got started.
SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Here it comes.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The chairman asking questions and not wanting answers.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): For the order, the chair now recognizes the gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Johnson, for five minutes.
REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Attorney General Garland, great to see you. Thank you for your service to the nation. And the nation watches as the Republicans have no answer for why they want to focus and obsess on Hunter Biden receiving two million dollars for -- from Burisma after serving on a board that he said he was not qualified to serve on. But yet, the Saudi Arabians gave two billion dollars to Jared Kushner, who conducted a Middle East strategy for his dear old dad, Donald Trump.
He got two billion dollars for something that he is not equipped to do, which is investment banking. And so, Republicans looking at Hunter Biden instead of -- instead of Jared Kushner. Americans don't understand how that could be.
And they also are increasingly alarmed about the fact that the Republicans in control of the House only seem to have three objectives. One is to impeach Joe Biden. Number two is to shut down -- is to impeach -- or get rid of Kevin McCarthy, actually. And the third is to shut down the government. And a subset of that is to defund the DOJ and the FBI afoot trying to hold Donald Trump accountable.
So, the American people are watching that. And they also appreciate the fact that you've had a distinguished career as a prosecutor and a DOJ official, as well as 24 years on the bench. You served on the second highest court of the land as a judge for 24 years, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. We appreciate your service.
You were for seven years the lead -- you were the -- you managed that entire office. We thank you for that. You also served on the Judicial Council for a number of years. And so, you are steeped in the rule of law.
You are a judge extraordinaire. And as a judge, you never had the occasion to receive a private jet travel to an exotic location by a corporate billionaire, did you? You can cut your mic on.
MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: No.
JOHNSON: You never received an offer to get a ride on a private jet?
JOHNSON: Did you take any vacations at exclusive resorts paid for by a billionaire?
GARLAND: I know these are not hypothetical questions. And I think this is really not within my realm. Of course, I do.
JOHNSON: I mean you were a judge extraordinaire, and you know the rules of ethics for judges because your bench had to -- was covered by a code of conduct. Is that not correct?
GARLAND: Yes, all the -- all the judges, federal appellate, and district judges are covered by the Code of Conduct.
JOHNSON: You would never have had somebody to pay for your godson's tuition to private school. Would you?
GARLAND: I don't -- I don't want to answer these kinds of hypothetical -- at least, for me they're hypothetical questions. What I would say is always a judge and I've said this before, quite publicly and long ago, always held myself to the highest standards of ethical responsibility imposed by the code. And that's really all I can answer here.
JOHNSON: And it's required that judges and justices avoid even appearances of impropriety in a career.
GARLAND: Again, I know you're asking this both hypothetically. And that hypothetically, all I can say is I follow the code of Judicial Conduct, and includes avoiding appearances. That's right.
JOHNSON: Well, let me ask you this question. Senator Whitehouse and I sent a letter to you alerting you to the fact that we were asking the Judicial Council to refer the matter of Clarence Thomas being in violation of the Ethics and Government Act to the Justice Department.
And after that, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez along with myself and others requested that you take that matter up directly. Have you responded to either one of those letters? And if not, why not? And what action have you taken pursuant to those letters? (INAUDIBLE)
GARLAND: I --
JORDAN: The gentleman may respond.
GARLAND: I assume that if you sent the letter, we have it. And I'll speak to the Office of Legislative Affairs about where it is at this point.
JOHNSON: Is the department investigating?
JORDAN: The time of the gentleman -- the time of the gentleman has expired. The chair now recognizes the gentleman from California, Mr. Issa.
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA): Thank you. Good day, Mr. Attorney General. And this may be the reason that they -- that it's good for you to leave the Chief Justice in that group before each of us speak because you would have already heard all that. I want to thank you personally for your office and your engagement on Camp Lejeune and on -- obviously, a vast amount of litigation. That is one of the many, many jobs that it falls at your feet.
One of the jobs that falls at our feet here is that we are watchdogs of the executive branch. You have previously said that you're not Congress's attorney. And you've said you're not the president's attorney.
And I'm assuming that you're neither our prosecutor nor our defense attorney, and you are neither the president's prosecutor nor defense attorney. And that's why the -- today's investigation really does deal with the fact that if you're not, by definition, the president's prosecutor, but we have an obligation to see whether or not the president or a member of his family or in concert with the president's activities, in fact, need to be overseen, admonished, or even prosecuted. And so, I wanted -- I have a couple of questions for you.
And one of them is that you have not said this very much today but you often say I cannot comment on that because it's an ongoing investigation. And when we ask for information, you very commonly say that it is the policy, not the law, but the policy of the Department of Justice not to provide information related to an ongoing investigation. So far, I'm on track, is that correct?
GARLAND: I think -- I think I've said more than that's just the policy. I think the letters we've sent trace it to the constitutional separation of powers to Rule Six(e) in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, etcetera. But in general, I'm in accord with what you're saying.
ISSA: So, one of the challenges we face is that just a matter of weeks ago, a federal judge found the actions of the now special prosecutor to be so outside what he could have agreed to that he pushed back on a plea settlement and nullified it and sent the U.S. Attorney going back. In light of that, don't you think it's appropriate for that portion to be considered a pre-ongoing investigation and for Congress to legitimately look at the activities leading up to that failed plea bargain rather than wait until weeks, months, or years from now when a case is fully settled? GARLAND: Yes. So, if you'll give me a chance. I -- first, I don't agree with the characterization of what happened in the plea. The district judge performed her obligations under Rule 11 to determine whether the parties were in agreement as to what each had agreed to and determined that they were not.
We fell apart as you know. There has been another prosecution. So, that leads to the second thing. We are in -- Mr. Weiss is in the midst of an ongoing prosecution on the very matter that you're talking about.
ISSA: OK. But, Mr. Attorney General, if we believe, and we do, at least on this side of the day. is that a pattern of behavior is occurring relative to the investigation of Hunter Biden. Particularly and including, will he live in the vice president's home, will he operated commingled with the vice president, and even today as he travels with the president.
So, in light of that, can you agree that in fact it should be reasonable for us to look at a number of items, including -- and one that I want your answer on and we know we have limited time. Mr. Weiss supposedly had this ability to bring a prosecution anywhere. He now explicitly has that ability.
However, are you concerned and should we have the right to look into the fact that political appointees in California and in the District of Columbia refused to in fact cooperate with him in those invest -- in investigations that he was charged with doing in Delaware, but which flowed over into their jurisdictions?
Isn't that in fact, an example where those political appointees of the now president that their decision not to cooperate with him creates at least an a -- in appearance of political interference with the investigation of the president's son and possibly activities related to the president?
GARLAND: Look. I'm happy to answer this question in hypothetical, but not in the specifics because I have stayed out of this matter. In the hypothetical, it is the process -- normal process of the department that if a U.S. Attorney in one district wants to bring a case in another, they go to that other district and consult. It's perfectly appropriate. They do that in order to determine what the policies are in that district, what the practices have been in that district, what the judges are like in that district.
But a U.S. Attorney in another district does not have the authority to deny another U.S. Attorney the ability to go forward. And I have assured Mr. Weiss that he would have the authority one way or the other. And I think Mr. Weiss's letters completely reflect that.
ISSA: Thank you. To be continued.
JORDAN: The time of the gentleman has expired. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from California for five minutes. REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Welcome, Mr. Attorney General, and thank you for leading the department with such integrity. We meet today at a momentous time in our history. The country is about to go through a great trial.
By this, I do not mean any of the several trials of the former president, but rather a trial of the proposition that we are a nation of laws committed to the rule of law and that no one is above the law. It is a proposition well known around the world because it is the one essential ingredient in all democracies. We have all professed our belief in this principle, but it has never been truly tested. Not like it is today.
In this committee, we are engaged in a portion of that trial. The chairman would abuse the power of this committee by trying to interfere in the prosecutions of Donald Trump by trying to use the committee's power of subpoena to compel criminal discovery in effect making the committee a kind of criminal defense firm for the former president. In doing so, the chairman of this committee would establish a very different proposition. Through Mr. Jordan's actions, he would establish the principle that the rule of law should apply to almost everyone, just not the leader of his party.
According to this alternate proposition, if you are the president of the United States and you lose your reelection, you can violate the law and constitution to try to stay in power. And if you are successful, well then maybe you get to be president for life. And if you fail, there was no repercussion.
This proposition is also well-known to the world and it is called dictatorship. Mr. Jordan hopes to camouflage his assault on the rule of law by falsely claiming that Donald Trump is the victim of unequal justice and Hunter Biden its beneficiary. It is a claim as transparently political, as it is devoid of any factual basis. And it is cynical based on the belief that the American people cannot discern fact from fiction.
But I am betting on America. History has shown that those who bet against her are rarely successful, and more often, they end up covered with shame. I believe in the rule of law and I thank you, Mr. Attorney General for defending it.
Let me now turn to some of the false claims asserted by the former president and some of this committee. On Sunday, the former president appeared on a National News Sunday program and was asked about four indictments and 91 counts facing him. His response was Biden indictments -- excuse me, Biden political indictments, he said to the Attorney General -- he said to the Attorney General, indict him.
Mr. Attorney General, I want to give you a chance to respond. Was the president telling the truth or was he lying when he said that President Biden told you to indict him?
GARLAND: No one has told me to indict. And in this case, the decision to indict was made by the special counsel.
SCHIFF: So, that statement the president made on Sunday was false?
GARLAND: I'm just going to say again that no one has told me who should be indicted in any matter like this. And the decision about indictments made by Mr. Smith.
SCHIFF: Let me ask you this question about the prosecution of Hunter Biden. The prosecutor in that case, Mr. Weiss, was appointed not by Joe Biden, but he was appointed in the first instance, by Donald Trump, is that correct?
GARLAND: That's correct.
SCHIFF: And he was continued in that position, was he not?
GARLAND: He was continued in that position. Yes.
SCHIFF: And Mr. Attorney General, can you imagine -- can you imagine the hue and cry you would hear from my colleagues on the other side of the aisle if you had removed him from that position? Can you imagine the claims that you had removed a prosecutor who was diligently investigating Hunter Biden? Can you imagine the outrage they would have expressed?
GARLAND: I can say that during my confirmation hearing, discussed with many senators on that side of the aisle, their -- the desire and actual insistence that Mr. Weiss be continued to have responsibility for that matter. And I promised and I said at my confirmation hearing that he would be permitted to stay and that I would not interfere.
SCHIFF: And Mr. Attorney General, that was exactly the right decision. That was the right decision to give the American people the confidence that even a prosecutor chosen by the former president would continue the investigation into the son of the current president. That was exactly the right decision. Exactly the right decision.
And my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would have been screaming if it were otherwise. But their attack on you is completely devoid of fact, of principle. But I appreciate you doing the right thing for the Department of Justice and more importantly, the right thing for the American people. I yield back.
JORDAN: The gentleman yields back. The chair now recognizes the gentleman from Kentucky.
REP. THOMAS MASSIE (R-KY): Attorney General Garland, Elon Musk was a Democrat who admittedly supported Biden. But then he became a critic of the administration and exposed the censorship regime. Now, per the public reports, the DOJ has opened not one but two investigations of Elon Musk. Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, spent $400 million in 2020 tilting the elections secretly for Democrats. No investigations whatsoever.
To the American public, these look like mafia tactics. You pay your money, we look the other way. You get in our way, we punish you. The American public sees what these tactics are. Now, I want to direct your attention to a video here that we're going to play.
STEVEN DETTELBACH, ATF DIRECTOR: Obviously, that's a significant matter. It is an ongoing criminal investigation. And so, I'm not going to comment on an ongoing criminal investigation.
MASSIE: Were those pipe bombs operable?
DETTELBACH: Again --
MASSIE: The ATF is the expert.
DETTELBACH: Again, it's an ongoing and criminal investigation. And under long-standing policy, I cannot comment.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: And we know this is a very active ongoing investigation and there are some restrictions on that but we will do our best --
MASSIE: Yes, we can handle classified information, and we fund your department. And so, you need to provide that.
WRAY: I -- it's not -- respectfully, it's not an issue of classification. It's an issue of commenting on ongoing criminal investigations, which is something that by long-standing department policy, we are restricted in doing. And in fact, the last administration actually strengthened those policies partly because --
MASSIE: That's not our policy, though, and we fund you so let's move on.
WRAY: I could --
MASSIE: Do you know how --
GARLAND: So, I'm not going to violate this normal rule of law. I'm not going to comment on an investigation that's ongoing.
MASSIE: Peter Navarro -- Peter Navarro was indicted for contempt of Congress. Aren't you, in fact, in contempt of Congress when you give us this answer?
This is an answer that's appropriate at a press conference. It's not an answer that's appropriate when we are asking questions. We are the committee that is responsible for your creation, for your existence of your department. You cannot continue to give us these answers. Aren't you, in fact, in contempt of Congress when you refuse to answer?
GARLAND: Congressman, I have the greatest respect for Congress. I also have the greatest respect for the Constitution and the laws of the United States. The protection of pending investigations and ongoing investigations, as I briefly discussed in another dialogue a few moments ago, goes back to the separation of powers which gives the executive branch the sole authority to conduct prosecutions. It's a requirement of due process and respect for those who are under investigation and protection of their civil rights. There's nothing to do with respect to Congress. MASSIE: Well, with all -- with all due -- with all due respect -- with all due respect to that, Iran-Contra was an ongoing investigation. And that didn't stop Congress from getting the answers. And you're getting in the way of our constitutional duty.
You're citing the Constitution. I'm going to cite it. It's our constitutional duty to do oversight.
Now, in that video, that was your answer to a question to me two years ago when I said how many agents or assets of the government were present on January 5 and January 6 and agitating in the crowd to go into the Capitol, and how many went into the Capitol? Can you answer that now?
GARLAND: I don't know the answer to that question.
MASSIE: That was last time. You don't know how many there were, or there were none?
GARLAND: I don't know the answer to either of those questions. If there were any, I don't know how many.
MASSIE: You've had --
GARLAND: I don't know whether there are any.
MASSIE: I think you've made it just perjured yourself that you don't know that there were any. You want to say that again, that you don't know that there were any?
GARLAND: I have no personal knowledge of this matter. I think what I said the last time --
MASSIE: You've had two years to find out. And today -- by the way, that was in reference to Ray Epps, and yesterday you indicted him. Isn't that a wonderful coincidence, on a misdemeanor?
Meanwhile, you're sending grandmas to prison. You're putting people away for 20 years for merely filming. Some people weren't even there, yet you've got the guy on video who says go into the Capitol.
He's directing people to the Capitol before the speech ends. He's at the side of the first breach. You've got all the goods on him. 10 videos, and it's an -- and it's an indictment for a misdemeanor? The American public isn't buying it. I yield the balance of my time to Chairman Jordan.
GARLAND: May I answer the question?
JORDAN: I'm going to ask you one now. Let's -- we'll let the gentleman --
JORDAN: That -- go ahead. But -- GARLAND: In discovery in the cases that were filed with respect to
January 6, the Justice Department prosecutors provided whatever information they had about the question that you're asking. With respect to Mr. Epps, the FBI has said that he was not an employee or informant of the FBI. Mr. Epps has been charged. And there's a proceeding I believe going on today on that subject.
MASSIE: The charge is a joke. I yield to the chairman.
JORDAN: The time of the gentleman has expired. The chair recognizes the gentleman from California.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Mr. Attorney General, my colleague just said that you should be held in contempt of Congress. And that is quite rich because the guy who's leading the hearing room right now, Mr. Jordan, is about 500 days into evading his subpoena. About 500 days. So, if we're going to talk about contempt of Congress, let's get real.
I mean, are you serious that Jim Jordan, a witness to one of the greatest crimes ever committed in America, a crime where more prosecutions have occurred than any crime committed in America refuses to help this country and we're going to get lectured about subpoena compliance and contempt of Congress? Jim Jordan won't even honor a lawful subpoena. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? There's no credibility on that side.
Mr. Attorney General, you are serious. They are not. You are decent, they are not. You are fair. They are not. So, I welcome you to the law firm of Insurrection LLP where they work every single day on behalf of one client, Donald Trump.
And they do that at the expense of millions of Americans who need the government to stay open, who want their kids safe in their schools and who would like to see Ukraine stay in the fight so that we don't help Russia. That's the expense that this nonsense, this clown show -- I call it a clown show, except they actually have real responsibilities that affect real Americans. It's a difference between one side that believes in governing and one side that believes in ruling.
You've tried to comply with this committee. In fact, last week, one of your special agents came here for an interview, brought his lawyer, and was told that he couldn't have his lawyer present. Mr. Jordan, who tells all of us he knows so much about the Constitution, one -- afford one of your employees one of the basic constitutional rights to have a lawyer present. In fact, they threatened to call the Capitol Police and arrest a lawyer that was brought Are you familiar with that standoff that occurred last week, Mr. Attorney General?
GARLAND: Generally, yes.
SWALWELL: Well, your office also sent a letter detailing it that you were willing to comply but you'd like him to have a lawyer. And I'd like to submit that to the record with unanimous consent.
JORDAN: Without objection. SWALWELL: Who appointed Mr. Weiss?
GARLAND: Mr. Trump was the last person who appointed Mr. Weiss to the position of U.S. attorney. I appointed him to the position of special counsel last month.
SWALWELL: Who initially appointed John Durham?
GARLAND: Mr. Durham was, I believe, also appointed by President Trump, and Mr. Barr appointed him as special counsel.
SWALWELL: And again, these guys are so upset that Donald Trump's appointed prosecutors aren't doing enough of the corruption that Donald Trump wants them to do. So, either they are just following the law or they're not as corrupt and they're not willing to go as far as they think that Donald Trump deserves. That's what they're asking to happen here.
Also, doesn't it seem that they want it both ways when it comes to the special counsel? A lot of questions suggested that the special counsel should be independent. But when they didn't like the direction of the special counsel, you were asked why you didn't interfere more or involve yourself more or investigate more. Do you get that sense that you're kind of stuck here?
GARLAND: When I make an appointment, somebody be special counsel or prosecutor, the appointment is without respect to what the outcomes of the case will be.
SWALWELL: Your office has made a number of reforms to 702, targeting foreign nationals. But those reforms have not been put into law. 702 was also one of the best weapons we have to go after fentanyl. Can you tell us if you would support putting some of those reforms into law so we don't have to leave administration to administration to see if they're going to be fallen?
GARLAND: I would. Section 702 provides us with the greatest amount -- at least the Justice Department every morning, the greatest amount of intelligence that we receive about dangerous threats to the United States.
SWALWELL: From foreign nationals?
GARLAND: From foreign nationals. I am quite aware and sensitive to civil liberties concerns with respect to the queries. And for that reason, I put into place an extend -- I extended some of those that Mr. Barr had begun at the end of his term.
And I put further ones in place, those have led to a dramatic reduction in the number of queries and a dramatic reduction in the number of non-compliant queries. I believe those are appropriate reforms. And I would be in favor of codifying them. Yes.
SWALWELL: Thank you, Mr. Attorney General. And thank you for coming and doing something that the chairman is unwilling to do, testify to Congress. I yield back.
JORDAN: The gentleman yields back. The chair now recognizes the gentleman from Wisconsin, Mr. Fitzgerald.
REP. SCOTT FITZGERALD (R-WI): Attorney General, on August 11, 2023, you appointed Mr. David Weiss, U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware and special counsel oversees the investigation of Hunter Biden. I don't think the question has been asked yet. Why did you choose to appoint him as special counsel?
GARLAND: The explanation was given. And as far -- and to the extent, I can give an explanation -- I'm permitted to give an explanation as the one I gave and sent to the Congress, which is that Mr. Weiss requested it.
And I had promised to give him all the resources that he need that he reached the stage of the investigation where he thought it would be appropriate. And under those extraordinary circumstances, I thought the public interest would be served by making him special counsel.
FITZGERALD: How did Mr. Weiss's name emerge? Who recommended him? How was it brought to you or presented to you that this would be the best person to be the special counsel?
GARLAND: I'm not going to get into internal discussions. Mr. Weiss asked that he be appointed as special counsel. And I granted that request and made him special counsel, but I'm not going to get into internal deliberations in the Justice Department.
FITZGERALD: But I think you said earlier, you've had no discussions with the White House and certainly the president in regards to that. Is it accurate?
GARLAND: Of course.
FITZGERALD: With no suggestions that came from any other level of government and Mr. -- (INAUDIBLE)
GARLAND: No -- nothing came from the White House. That's right.
FITZGERALD: So, on August 20, 2023, The Washington Post article claimed that Mr. Weiss worked with Hunter Biden and Hunter Biden's late brother, Beau Biden. Were you aware that there was a relationship there with the Biden family?
GARLAND: I'm not familiar with this. I don't know when he did -- (INAUDIBLE)
FITZGERALD: They work together on legal cases, you know, in prior years. You were unaware of that?
GARLAND: I'm not familiar with it.
FITZGERALD: And the article claims it would have been inevitable for Mr. Weiss and the president to cross paths in a state like Delaware. They knew each other. There was a relationship there, but you were not aware of any of this before you appointed him?
GARLAND: I'm aware of this but attorneys who are in practice certainly get to know people very difficult anywhere in the country for attorneys not to get to know attorneys on other sides of manners.
FITZGERALD: You said previously that Mr. Weiss had the ultimate authority over the investigation of the president's son, including prior to his appointment as special counsel. And you stand by that statement, I'm sure.
GARLAND: I'm sorry. I didn't --
FITZGERALD: Just did that. In fact, there was a -- that the ultimate authority was still there with Mr. Weiss to make determinations on that case.
GARLAND: I mean, still as special counsel, yes.
FITZGERALD: Yes, as special counsel. So, the buck stopped there and that's been determined. According to whistleblower testimony, Mr. Weiss's deputy, A-USA Lesley Wolf objected to search warrants of President Biden's guesthouse, the night investigation access to a storage unit containing all the documents from the vacated office of the law firm. Is Lesley Wolf still employed by the Department of Justice?
GARLAND: I'm not going to talk about any individuals in the Justice Department as --