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A.G. Garland Testifies Before GOP-Led House Judiciary Committee. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired September 20, 2023 - 13:30   ET



REP. TOM TIFFANY (R-WI): Mr. Chairman, just so we're real clear here, this is the same answer we received from Secretary Mayorkas a couple of months ago.

When he was in denial about a sheriff who lives -- one of the most reputable sheriffs you will find in the United States of America sitting down there on that southern border.

He sees it every day. He saw it working in 2020 because he told me when I was down there. And now he says, it is not working and it started January 20th of 2021.

You can pretend that you're dealing with Fentanyl. You're not. Because the borders are wide open.

Do you believe -- I'm going to shift to combatting gun violence.

Do you believe that a prohibited person that acquires a gun illegally and disposes of it in a dumpster where a criminal or innocent child could gain access to it should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law?

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is no longer a hypothetical question. You are referring to a specific case, which is now in judicial determination before a court of law. It is not appropriate for me to comment on that case.

TIFFANY: So, for the record, Mr. Chairman, let's understand that the same prosecuting attorney, who is now the special counsel, gave a sweetheart deal to that person.

And, yes, you are correct. We are referring to the president's son. He got a sweetheart deal. And the judge was smart enough to smell a rat when she saw it and she said, you guys go back to the drawing board.

That same special counsel is in charge of this investigation. Isn't that correct, Mr. Chairman? Absolutely.

I want to close real quickly with this. There was a World Naked Bike Ride in Madison, Wisconsin, just a couple months ago.

I sent you a letter two months ago asking if you had a problem with that because it exposed a 10-year-old girl, by the race organizer, the bike organizers to peddling around Madison, Wisconsin naked.

Do you think that's a problem? And why did you not answer our letter from two months ago?

GARLAND: I'm sorry. I will have to get -- ask the Office of Legislative Affairs to get back to you about this.

TIFFANY: Does it typically take two months to be able to answer questions like this?

GARLAND: It sounds like you are asking about a question about state and local law enforcement. We get hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of letters. I'll ask the Office of Legislative Affairs where that letter is.

TIFFANY: State and local law enforcement would not act. We were hoping you would. It's obvious you're not.

I yield.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): The gentleman yields back.

The gentleman from North Carolina is recognized.

REP. DEBORAH ROSS (D-NC): )Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And thank you again, Mr. Attorney General, for joining us and for your patience with this questioning.

I'm honored to represent a diverse community in North Carolina. Wake County has worked to welcome people of all backgrounds, ethnicities and religions.

The growth and success of my district and the Research Triangle Park depends on our commitment to celebrating the many cultures that contribute to our community.

Unfortunately, over the past few years, these varied communities that contributed so much to my state and my district have found themselves under attack.

Jewish leaders in my district have received threats to themselves and their synagogues as recently as last month. HBCUs across our state have locked down in response to bomb threats.

Asian-Americans in North Carolina and throughout the country have found themselves facing slurs and threats, spurred, in large part, by the racialized language about the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported in late 2020 that the number of white nationalist groups grew 55 percent between 2017 and 2019, noting that the rise in hate-based attacks coincides with the growth of the white nationalist movement.

And the Anti-Defamation League relatedly found that white supremacists propaganda incidents occurred over 14 times per day on average in 2020 with a total of 5,125 reported cases. Nearly twice the number of cases reported in 2019 and the highest number the ADL has ever recorded.

This dangerous trend has continued in the last few years and has recently included as active clubs have been increasing in their number and prominence.

These active clubs started popping up in late 2020 and are a network of white nationalist groups that see themselves as fighters in training for an ongoing war against a system they claim is deliberately plotting against the white race.


As attorney general, I am deeply interested and concerned about the rise of these clubs, threats of violence and actual violence, and wanted to know if you're familiar with these activities and what your department is doing to counter act them.

GARLAND: So I'm not familiar with the specifics of those clubs. And I will certainly look into what the department has been doing in that respect.

Very soon after I came into the department, I saw the spike in hate crime threats that were being made and actual acts of violence.

I directed the department to develop a strategy for responding to that. Thirty days later, that was pretty much coincident with Congress' passage of the Covid No Hate Act.

And we have now fulfilled, I think, all of the obligations under that act. We have task forces set up to investigate and prosecute hate crimes both as hate crimes and where they satisfy the requirements as domestic violence extremism or as domestic terrorism.

We have brought dozens of cases against people who have made these threats as well as in particular those who have attempted to carry them out.

And as you know, we have a prosecution pending in Buffalo with respect to the horrendous killing of black Americans in the TOPS Grocery Store by an avowed white supremacist.

ROSS: Thank you very much. And thank you for your efforts in this regard.

On a different subject, with my last 45 seconds, North Carolina also saw the impact of cybercrimes with the Colonial Pipeline.


ROSS: And I'd like to know how your office is counter acting any cyberattacks and dealing with people who perpetrate them.

GARLAND: Yes. So we are vigilant to the risk of these kind of cyberattacks. In that case, these were criminal gangs affiliated in Russia, resident in Russia. Fortunately we had available intelligence from Section 702, which we

were discussing earlier today. I have to say that's one of the principal sources of our ability to fight these cyberattacks.

Whether they are criminal or launched by nation states, whether they are attempting to get ransomware and create ransom or whether they are simply trying -- also trying to exfiltrate our information or whether they're trying to prevent our computers from working at all.

The Justice Department has established a cyber task force for this purpose, a ransom ware task force, and we are recently working on crypto currency in exactly the same way.

JORDAN: Time of the gentlelady has expired.

We're going to try to move quickly --

ROSS: Thank you.

I yield back.

JORDAN: -- Attorney General. Because we have votes and we have a majority conference.

The gentleman from Colorado.

REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): I thank the chairman.

Mr. Attorney General, welcome.

And my friend and colleague from Colorado outlined your biography I thought very well. But he left out two points I'd like to mention.

One is, not only did you lead the prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombing case, but in that case, the death penalty was asked for and actually received. And Timothy McVay was executed.

Not exactly a Democratic priority to seek the death penalty in cases. But you did so because of the rule of law. You did so because of the facts and the law demanded that you do so. And you followed the facts and the law in that situation.

The other issue, an example in your bio I wanted to point out, is my understanding that in your conference room, you have a portrait of Elliot Richardson.

And the reason you have a portrait of Elliot Richardson is because he demanded that the Department of Justice stay independent from the Nixon administration.

He had the backbone to stand up to the president of the United States and make sure that the Department of Justice would not become the government's lawyer.

You put that portrait there soon after you became attorney general because it was a signal. It was a signal to the world that you wanted to be known in the same way that others that had come before you were known.

Frankly, one of the reasons I respect Attorney General Barr so much is because, after January 6th, he made the very difficult decision to walk into the president's office and tell the president the election was not stolen, we have looked at this.


For that reason, he resigned before January 20th when power was turned over.

But Mr. Attorney General, you are unable to answer some questions here. But I'll answer them for you.

Do you know what people would have said if you had asked for U.S. Attorney Weiss' resignation when you became attorney general? I'm sorry, yes, U.S. Attorney General Weiss' resignation.

They would have said you were obstructing the Hunter Biden investigation, that you were firing a Republican appointee so that you could appoint a Democrat to slow-walk this investigation and lose the leadership of that investigation.

If you had made the same investigation because you were frustrated that the prosecution wasn't moving fast enough, they would have again said you were interfering with the prosecution.

If you -- when U.S. Attorney Weiss asked to become special counsel, if you had the decision then to appoint someone else to special counsel, people would have criticized you because you have been taking someone out of the investigation that knew the facts, that could lead the investigation.

And put someone in who could have come up to speed on the investigation and wouldn't have allowed major decisions to be made until they came up to speed.

So in three different opportunities where you could have acted, you could have criticized either way, whether you acted or did not act in that situation.

Far from slow-walking, really, once the Trump administration decided that that was the person leading the investigation, your hands were tied. You didn't have the opportunity to make a decision on the leadership of that investigation.

But speaking of slow-walking, I appreciate your reference in your opening remarks, your written opening remarks to:

"The Department of Justice strongly supports efforts by Congress to promote competition in digital markets by passing legislation to prohibit certain anti-competitive practices by dominant online platforms.

You can't say who they are but I can. Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google are monopolies and they have been harming this country and harming competition in that particular market for years.

And Congress, for five years, has been investigating and offering bills on that subject.

They spent $250 million, according to reports, in the last Congress to defeat those bills. And now we do nothing in this Congress to try to deal with that very serious issue.

In fact, there are efforts, I'm told, over in the Senate -- and I use the word "effort" and "Senate" very carefully in the same sentence.

But there are efforts in the Senate, S-2321, to take $50 million in funding for the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, and there would be an 18 percent cut, and to move that money to the general Department of Justice operations fund to try to further cripple the efforts that are going on in court.

The state attorney generals (sic) and the Antitrust Division and Federal Trade Commission are doing a great job jointly in trying to combat the scourge of these monopolies.

My question to you is, will you make sure that the Antitrust Division is properly funded so it can continue this very serious effort at stopping these monopolies from harming our children, from harming competition and from further strengthening China's position in this position.

GARLAND: Yes, I absolutely will. And one of the first things I did and the first budget opportunity we had was to ask for more money from the Antitrust Division than had been given in quite a long time.

And to ask for the fees that are paid for purposes of merger analysis being given to the Antitrust Division directly rather than to go into a general fund.

BUCK: Thank you.

I yield back.

JORDAN: I will just point out for the record that Attorney General Barr left the Trump administration on December 23rd, 2020, not between January 6th and January 20th, 2021.


JORDAN: With that, I recognize the gentlelady --

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Mr. Chairman, could I -- I'm sorry. Since he mentioned a monopoly, could I enter into this record this article about the Mastercard/Visa duopoly, micro-active, and their target of a bipartisan bill to reform this monopoly.

Could I insert that into the record, please?

JORDAN: Without objection.

The gentlelady from Missouri is recognized.

REP. CORI BUSH (D-MO): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you for being here, Attorney General Garland.

We are here today to make clear what it means to promote equal justice for every person in this country.

Attorney General Garland, you often speak about your commitment to supporting civil rights and the rule of law. But I have concerns about whether the department under your leadership is doing the absolute most it possibly can to advance these goals.


In the limited time I have, I want to share my concerns about specific issues with you directly and to make clear the steps that I believe that the department needs to take.

First off, as this hearing has shown, a small number of the defendant's cases get an outside level of attention and politics.

But the reality is you preside over most of the federal system of mass incarceration.

And every day, in courtrooms around the country, including St. Louis, prosecutors who ultimately report to you are continuing to disproportionately prosecute, disproportionately black and brown people before disproportionately low-level immigration and narcotics and firearm offenses.

And under your watch, the federal incarceration rate has increased for the first time in nearly a decade.

Meanwhile, corporate crime enforcement is lower than it was during the Trump administration. The department needs to rethink its entire approach to prosecution.

But let me also say I thank you for what you are doing with the insurrectionists.

And I urge you to take specific steps towards ending mandatory minimums and prosecutor misconduct waivers, funding federal public defenders, use of clemency power and reporting on disparities in prosecution.

I'm also deeply concerned about the Bureau of Prisons. Director Peters is not doing enough to address the rampant issues of abuse and mismanagement at the bureau, which affects both correctional staff and people in custody.

It is shameful that solitary confinement has increased in the Bureau of Prisons during the Biden administration despite the president claiming he supports ending it.

We need to see more from the department across the board on Bureau of Prisons oversight. And you should implement the president's commitment to end solitary confinement once and for all.

I'm also disheartened that the department has continued to pursue the death penalty. I urge the department to reverse course, including by dismantling the federal death chamber in Indiana and advocating for the commutation of sentences of everyone on federal death row.

I'm also still waiting to see any meaningful progress on the commitments that Associate Attorney General Gupta announced in June '22 around the enforcement of Title VI and the Safe Streets Acts.

I'd also like -- and I'm going on and on, but I'm taking my time.

I'd also like an update on when the department will respond to the Oversight Committee Democrats' letter from June 2021 about the memo issued by the Trump administration's Office of Legal Counsel concerning the Equal Rights Amendment.

That deeply flawed memo is preventing the archivist from publishing the Equal Rights Amendment as the 28th Amendment.

I know that OLC issued a short clarification after you took office, but the wording was not a clear refutation of the Trump-era memo. I urge you to fully withdraw the Trump OLC memo, which is baselessly obstructing constitutional gender equality for all.

Finally, I cannot overstate how shocked I am by the targeting of protesters who oppose the construction of the Safety Training Center or Cop City. And I urge the department to investigate these obvious violations of civil rights.

These may all seem like unrelated issues. But, to me, to my constituents and advocates and the people most directly impacted, they are interconnected and all they speak to whether the department under your leadership will advance justice or pay lip service to it.

Given the limited time that we have, I don't expect you to comment on all of these issues.

But I have a question. Will you commit to working with me and my office on these issues, including having your staff promptly, by writing your position and sending that to us, reaching out to us about all of the issues that we just spoke about?

GARLAND: I'd be happy to have the Office of Legislative Affairs to work with your staff.

I won't say I could not be prouder of the civil rights record of this department. It is the fundamental basis for why the Justice Department was founded.

We have a history of also being obviously involved in the 1960s. When I came to the Justice Department --

(CROSSTALK) BUSH: I'm -- I'm -- I'm going to stop you. I'm not disagreeing with any of that. I just want you to understand where I'm coming from, the things I would like to see.

I don't mean to cut you off, but I need to reclaim my time.

Finally, I want to remind everyone yet again this is what good faith oversight looks like, not the Republican play book of running interference for a twice impeached, four times indicted white supremacist demagogue who would rather overthrow our democracy than admit he lost an election.

Thank you.

And I yield back.

JORDAN: The gentlelady yields back.

The gentleman from Texas is recognized.


REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): Thank you, Chairman.

Thank you to the attorney general for being here for us today.

On October 21st, 2021, before this committee, I ask you about Mr. Scott Smith, a father in Loudon County, Virginia, who was arrested at a school board meeting where he questioned the rape of his daughter in a bathroom in the public school there.

You said at the time you were unfamiliar with the case. Are you now? Yes or no.

GARLAND: Only familiar to the extent I've read about it in the press.

ROY: You sent a memo on October 4, 2021, directing the FBI and U.S. attorney's offices to address, quote, "harassment," end quote, of school boards. Yes or no?

GARLAND: Sent a memo to address violence and threats of violence in connection with school personnel --

ROY: Directed at school boards?

GARLAND: Not directed at school boards. Directed at school personnel, school administers --


ROY: Throughout the country, as a priority for the federal government, for the United States attorney's office.

That followed a letter on September 29th, 2021, from the National School Board Association to President Biden and emails from the National School Board Association Director Chip Slaven to the White House in which the White House asked for specific threats. And one of the examples was Scott Smith.

Subsequent to our hearing two years ago, 26 states left the National School Board Association and Slaven resigned on November 23rd of 2021.

Last week, Mr. Smith was pardoned by Governor Youngkin. Do you think the governor was correct? Yes or no?

GARLAND: Pardon authority belongs to the governor.

ROY: You don't have an opinion on whether the governor was correct?

GARLAND: I don't know the facts of the case so I'm not in a position to --

ROY: Have you rescinded the memo that you issued in 2021? Yes or no?

GARLAND: What we're discussing --


ROY: Have you rescinded the memo? Yes or no?

GARLAND: What we're discussing here --

ROY: Does the memo still exist? Is it still going? Yes or no? Has it been rescinded?

GARLAND: The memo was intended to have meetings within 30 days --


ROY: Has it been rescinded?

GARLAND: The 30 days have finished. Nothing has happened in more than a year and a half with respect to --


ROY: But it has not been rescinded?


ROY: It has not been pulled back?

GARLAND: There's nothing to resend.

ROY: Despite evidence that has come out from the National School Board Association's commissioned report that White House officials discussed this with DOJ more than a week before the letter was sent.

The NSBA apologized. Have you apologized? Yes or no?

GARLAND: I testified seven times since that original memo --


ROY: The first time you're back here since we talked about it.

GARLAND: I'm sorry?

ROY: This is the first time you're back here in front of us. Have you apologized for putting that memo out that implicated Scott Smith as a domestic terrorist, something the governor of Virginia has pardoned him from all of these accusations.

GARLAND: The memo said nothing about him, nothing about parents being terrorists, nothing about attending school board --

ROY: So the answer is, it's not been rescinded, and you haven't apologized for it?


GARLAND: The answer is --


ROY: Labeling an American citizen a domestic terrorist in a memo and referring to it in a memo that's built on the back of that.

But now we had this compliments being driven to the Civil Rights Division. Let's talk about Mark Howe (ph) from Pennsylvania, a father who was arrested by heavily armed federal and local law enforcement in front of his wife and children.

This after Mark Howe's (ph) lawyers said he would appear voluntarily. Local authorities investigated, found no case. Mark Howe (ph) was arrested by the FBI for FACE Act violations. The jury met for an hour, Howe (ph) was acquitted.

Now, when I was in federal court, I don't remember that being my result very often. I don't remember it happening at all, where we took it to a jury and he was acquitted after an hour.

Did you investigate this or question the United States attorney on why they wasted resources for such an obvious result? And can you explain, yes or no, that that was a good use of the Department of Justice's authority?

GARLAND: The Justice Department respects the jury's verdict. The decisions in that case were made by agents and prosecutors on the ground.

ROY: Are you concerned that enforcement of the FACE Act has been biased towards pro-lifers over anti-life protesters 126 to four, by our count?

And were asking information to be able to track down of such prosecutions but 126 times against pro-lifers versus four times for people who dare to question the issue of life.

I'll --


ROY: I'll just -- I'll leave that out there just to say that's the Civil Rights Division at play.

Meanwhile, we have, you know, the very liberal progressive groups being targeted as well. Senator Cruz and I sent a letter to you asking for information about how the FBI informant had gone to a liberal group's pro-life meeting, and yet we didn't get any response from you.

So I would ask if you'd respond to our letter we sent back in March asking about the FBI infiltrating such a meeting.

GARLAND: I don't know what you're referring to but I will ask the Office of Legislative Affairs to look into this letter.

ROY: Thank you.

Finally, are tax cases -- require approval by main Justice no matter what district has venue? Yes or no? Do tax cases --


ROY: -- require approval by main Justice, no matter what district has venue. Yes or no?

GARLAND: It depends on the circumstances. And the example that I know you're referring to --


ROY: Generally speaking, yes.



ROY: Main Justice runs the Tax Division? Yes or no? Main Justice runs the Tax Division?

GARLAND: In the Hunter Biden case, I assure that Mr. Weiss --


ROY: That's not what I'm asking about. I haven't mentioned that guy's name. I didn't. I very simply asked a simple question. Do tax cases require approval by main Justice?

GARLAND: Most --

ROY: As a general matter?

GARLAND: Most of the time, but not when the attorney general has granted authority to a U.S. attorney to do what he thinks is best.

ROY: And in a turf battle --


UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman? Point of order.

I mean --




JORDAN: The gentleman's time -- the gentleman's time is up.

ROY: I claim about a minute and a half of additional time.

JORDAN: The gentleman's time is expired.

The chair now recognizes the gentlelady from Texas.

REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR (D-TX): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And Attorney General Garland, thank you, first and foremost, for your public service and your dedication to justice.

I'm delighted to see you here today. Thank you for appearing before us.

I represent El Paso, Texas, a community right on the U.S./Mexico border. And so we have been witnessing firsthand the abuses at the hands of Governor Greg Abbott through Operation Lone Star, which began in 2021.

He, Governor Abbott has deployed state resources and Texas National Guard members to the state's border with Mexico. And Operation Lone Star has created border management challenges.

It's resulted in countless humanitarian and due-process violations for migrants. It's harmed guardsmen assigned to the mission. It's cost the state billions of dollars. And it has completely undermined the federal government's authority over immigration.

I sent you a letter, my colleagues and I, a Democratic congressman from Texas sent you a letter in July about Abbott's floating barriers. I know that is now going -- that case is going through appeal.

But we have also learned that the National Guard shot -- a guardsman shot at a Mexican national across the Rio Grande. And in September, on September 1st, I sent you a letter asking that the DOJ investigate that.

We also know that Governor Abbott -- we've learned from whistleblowers that he has ordered National Guardsmen to prevent migrants from turning themselves in to CBP. Has ordered that they push back people into Mexico. And, Mr. Chairman, I would like to -- unanimous consent to enter the record an "El Paso Times" article from earlier this year, "Texas National Guard Orders Hundreds of Asylum Seekers on U.S. Territory Back into Mexico."

JORDAN: Without objection.

ESCOBAR: This, in addition to Governor Abbott separating fathers from their children and their families. It's just egregious what is happening on the border via Operation Lone Star.

Attorney General Garland, are you able to speak to any responses the department has had to Governor Abbott's blatant undermining of federal immigration authority?

GARLAND: I can obviously speak on the buoys question. We brought suit under the Rivers and Harbors Act for the interference with navigable waters. That case is still under adjudication in the district court.

ESCOBAR: I understand that.

There are other issues -- I want to make sure I flag them for you today at this hearing. But would also like for your folks to take a close look at the investigation that I've requested.

And I will be sending a follow-up letter after what we learned just this week from the "El Paso Times."

GARLAND: Thank you.

ESCOBAR: Switching gears. I do want to offer you an opportunity for some rebuttal because what we've seen from some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle is their penchant for performance for Twitter and for other news programs.

Mr. Attorney General, we've heard a lot of accusations regarding some U.S. attorney's offices not partnering with Mr. Weiss and hypotheticals about what that means.

Can you please explain the difference between partnering with a U.S. attorney's office and acting as a special attorney or special counsel?

GARLAND: I can talk about it, obviously, in the abstract and the theoretical.

It's a normal process of the department, if prosecutors from one area of the country and has a case that has significance in another, to speak with the U.S. attorney and the other district.

To find out what the policies of the district are, to find out what the practices are, to see how judges in that district react to different kinds of charges.


Sometimes a decision is made to partner together in those investigations. And sometimes a decision is made for the U.S. attorney from the other district to have his or her own people bring those cases.