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AG Garland Testifies before GOP-Led House Judiciary Committee; Garland: "I did not interfere with" Hunter Biden Investigation. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 20, 2023 - 12:00   ET



REP. SCOTT FITZGERALD (R-WI): Is Leslie Wolf still employed by the Department of Justice?

MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not going to talk about any individuals in the justice department. As I said before singling out individuals has led to a serious threat to their safety. I will say that the supervisor of this investigation was Mr. Weiss. He's responsible for all the decisions that were made. Excuse me, many of the things that you're saying occurred during the previous administration. I apologize.

FITZGERALD: OK. Well, there was absolutely a discussion by Leslie Wolf that if they were if they told investigators or got involved with this, that there would ultimately be issues. You still believe that at this point that the entire investigation has moved in the correct discretion was handled by the correct discretion of the individuals in -- .

GARLAND: Mr. Weiss was a long standing career prosecutor was appointed by President Trump, he has an outstanding reputation. I have confidence that he will proceed as appropriate. And at the end of his investigation, he will submit a public report just like Mr. Durham, just like Mr. Mueller. He will be available for you to ask him questions about why he did various things that were done. I yield the balance of my time to Chairman.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Mr. Garner what changed? On July 10 2023, David Weiss wrote the Senator Graham and said I have not requested Special Counsel Designation. August 11, you announced that he's now the Special Counsel, what happened in those 31 days?

GARLAND: As I said publicly, several days before my announcement, I think three days Mr. Weiss had asked to become special counsel. He explained that there were, I reached the stage of his investigation where he thought that appropriate.

JORDAN: What stage is that?

GARLAND: I had promised to give him the resources he needed.

JORDAN: What stage is that? He'd reached the stage after five years? What stage are we in? We in the beginning stage, the middle stage, the end stage, they keep hiding the ball stage? What stage are we in?

GARLAND: I think this one; I would go back to the videotape where I said I'm not permitted to discuss ongoing investigation.

JORDAN: But that isn't that convenient. Something changed in 31 to 32 days from July 10 to August 11. I think it's to brave whistleblowers came forward and a judge called BS on the plea deal. You guys tried to get past them. That's what I think happened. The Chair now recognizes the gentleman from California.

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chair. The House Judiciary Committee has the responsibility of helping to ensure the rule of law. Unfortunately, this committee's chairman ignored a bipartisan congressional subpoena. Their horrible precedent set by this chairman has damage the credibility of all congressional committees and seeking information on witnesses and damage the rule of law.

Attorney General Garland, thank you for your public service and thank you for being here today, I'd like to start by showing a video of January 6 and then issue some questions about that day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey brother, we're boots on the ground here, we're moving on the Capitol now. I'll give you a boots on the ground update here -- .

OFFICER: Multiple Capitol injuries, multiple Capitol injuries.

OFFICER: 50 to JOCC, we are still taking metal, sharpened objects, missiles, to include bottles and rocks and hand-thrown chemical grade fireworks.

OFFICER: -- this is now effectively a riot.

DISPATCH: 1349 hours, declaring it a riot.


LIEU: Attorney General Garland, the department justice charged over 1100 defendants in connection with an attack on our capital, correct?

GARLAND: Yes, that's correct.

LIEU: I'm going to state two facts. The people who showed up on January 6 who attack the nation's capital were supporters of Donald Trump. They -- Capitol to stop congress from certifying the fact that Donald Trump lost the election those two facts were so horrible that some of the right wing media and some Republican members of Congress could not handle that.

So they made up conspiracy theories. In fact, Donald Trump called January 6, a beautiful day. He said that people who showed up had love in their hearts. The Republican member of congress -- was like a normal tourist visit. And some Republicans have said there are no weapons used on January 6. Attorney General Garland, were there weapons used in attack on January 6?


GARLAND: Yes, yes in the video you already saw some of the weapons that were used. And there are obviously many more in many, many hours of video.

LIEU: And other conspiracy theory is that somehow the FBI actually orchestrated this attack. So I'm going to go through some cases that have gone through completion and resulted in sentencing. Joe Biggs was sentenced to 17 years in prison for seditious conspiracy and other counts related to attack on our nation's Capital. Have you seen any shred of evidence that Joe Biggs was an FBI agent?


LIEU: In fact, Joe Biggs was a member of the Proud Boys. This is a quiet Assistant U.S. Attorney -- stated about Joe Biggs and then Proud Boys. In court, he stated, "They saw themselves as Donald Trump's army, fighting and keep their preferred leader in power no matter what the law or the courts had to say about it".

And then on September 4, Joe Biggs stated that he is confident Trump will pardon him. You said, "Oh, I know he'll pardon us, we're just supporters. We went there like he asked". Like now, I asked you about the case of Stewart Rhodes, who were sentenced to 18 years in prison for the tackle our nation's capital. Have you seen any shred of evidence at Stewart Rhodes was an FBI agent?


LIEU: In fact, he was the founder of the Oathkeepers. A far right paramilitary organization, Rhodes asked Donald Trump to call them up as militia. Then I'd like to ask about Enrique Tarrio, who is sentenced to 22 years in attack on our nation's capital. Have you seen any evidence that Enrique Tarrio was an FBI agent?

GARLAND: He was not an FBI agent.

LIEU: In fact he was the leader of their Proud Boys. What happened on January 6 is that Donald Trump supporters showed up because he told them to, they marched to Capitol because he told them to, they -- capitalism told them to stop the steel. That is a truth. And that is how history is going to record it. Thank you for prosecuting those who attack our nation's Capital. I yield back.

JORDAN: Gentleman yields back. The chair now recognizes the gentleman from South Carolina.

REP. RUSSELL FRY (R-SC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have a slide up here. And I'll start. In October or March of 22, Mr. Weiss was denied the ability to bring charges against Hunter Biden in the District of Columbia. In April of that same year, you testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee that Mr. Weiss was free to run the investigation without interference from the DOJ. According to the IRS whistleblower, there was a meeting in October of 22, where Mr. Weiss said that he was not the deciding official on whether charges were filed. And we know that because we have handwritten notes from the IRS whistleblowers that were confirmed in an email to people in the meeting.

Later in January, Mr. Weiss was denied the ability to bring charges, again, against Hunter Biden in the Central District of California. You testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in March of this year that he had full authority that Weiss confirmed that to us in a letter in June that he had been granted, "Full authority over this matter".

But then he kind of backed up in June 3, he said, well, just kidding. My charging authority is geographically limited to my home district in Delaware. And of course, you appoint him as special counsel. So why the heck has his story changed so many times over the course of these investigations?

GARLAND: Congressman, I've seen all the three letters, I read them quite carefully. They are all consistent with each other. And I urge everyone watching this on television or anyone who's interested to look at those three letters. They are not inconsistent with each other, and there's no change in the story.

FRY: But you agree that he had, and you've said this publicly that he had ultimate authority prior to the appointment of Special Counsel.

GARLAND: I've explained this repeatedly here, or explain this in another proceeding. I said that Mr. Weiss would have the authority to bring a case in any jurisdiction in which he wanted to and Mr. Weiss has confirmed that he had he would have that authority. I explained that if he had to bring a case in another jurisdiction.

As a matter of mechanics, it would require me or a delegate of mine to sign a 515 order. That is very common. And there is no, nothing stopping that from happening.

FRY: Forgive me for a second, though, but that's when you say you have ultimate when he wrote a letter on your behalf in June, I have ultimate authority. This is prior to the designation of Special Counsel. Ultimate to me means like, you can go wherever you want to.

GARLAND: Ultimate means when --

FRY: That particular points are could hive file charges in the district of South Carolina. He would not have that ability, correct? He would have to go through that U.S. attorney. So that's not full authority.


GARLAND: All they would have to do is ask me for 515 authorities. And I would sign it right away, just like when he asked me to be Special Counsel, within three days I sign that.

FRY: So he didn't have ultimate authority. GARLAND: He had the authority because I promised that he would have the authority.

FRY: But he did not have that authority. See, here's where I'm going. If he was denied the ability to bring charges in March of 22, in the District of Columbia, if he was denied the ability to bring charges in January of 23, in the Central District of California, that's not full authority.

These, these U.S. Attorneys operate as gatekeepers. So that's not full authority to do much of anything. And you know, what's remarkable to me. We sit here, and we look at this, and his story has changed so many times, you know, whose story hasn't changed? Mr. Shapley? Mr. Ziggler? The emails that confirm that he said, I don't have I'm not the deciding person on whether charges are filed.

And you know what the response back was from his colleague at work? Yep, you covered it all, Gary. That is consistent. What Mr. Weiss has done is the shell game and saying that he has authority, he doesn't have authority. But these gatekeepers at the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia, and in the Central District of California, they would have the gatekeeping authority on whether charges are brought in their jurisdictions.

GARLAND: I'm sorry.

FRY: -- the designation correct?

GARLAND: Those words have no meaning gatekeepers, et cetera. Mr. Weiss said he was never denied authority. I'm the one with the authority to decide who can prosecute in a different jurisdiction. And I promised that he would have that authority. I do not see any inconsistency here.

I was not at the meeting that Mr. Shapley was referring to, I know what I guaranteed. And I know what Mr. Weiss has said, I guaranteed.

JORDAN: Mr. Chairman, I yield the balance of my time. It's a simple question. If he already had it, why does he need it? That's the question. You said in your statement on August 11. You said he will continue, continue to have the authority to bring charges where when and whether he wherever he decides. So how can you continue to have the power that you just gave him?

That's the fundamental question, the gentleman from South Carolina was asking. If you already had it, why does he need it?

GARLAND: And I tried to answer that he had the authority and he continued to have the authority.

JORDAN: When did he specifically asked you, did you tell him ahead of time that he could get 515 statuses anytime? When did you tell him that he could get that if he requested it?

GARLAND: I made absolutely clear.

JORDAN: No, When? Did you tell him at the start of the investigation?

GARLAND: I made clear from the beginning, in my statements to the senate that he would have the authority to make any decisions that he wanted to and bring prosecutions he thought were appropriate.

JORDAN: Gentle lady from -- gentleman from South Carolina had expired. Gentle lady from Washington is recognized for five minutes.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Attorney General Garland, thank you for your tremendous service to this country. As somebody who was trapped in the gallery on January sixth, I have to admit, it's still hard for me to look at that video. And imagine that that happened at our U.S. Capitol.

And I'm deeply grateful that you have led this nation towards accountability of all those who were involved, including the former president. You have done so with full and complete attention to the facts with a team around you that focuses on thorough investigation.

And with a very clear mission that you've stated over and over and over again, despite the asked and answered on the other side, that the Justice Department works for the American people. This is a night and day transformation from a Justice Department that was constantly used by Donald Trump for his own political gain.

And it is my firm belief that we have to hold those accountable who tried to destroy our country, including the former president, or we risk losing our country altogether. So I thank you for your steadfast leadership.

It is just sad that this committee has also been transformed into a soapbox for political conspiracy theorists, instead of focusing on the really important issues that the American people care about. And so that's what I'm going to try to do.

I'm going to focus on the critical crisis of reproductive freedom, and the efforts to try and strip reproductive freedom from people across this country. As you know, a decade's long project of the extreme right wing materialized last year, when five Republican appointed justices overturned 50 years of precedent that established the constitutional right to abortion.

As one of the one in four women across this country who has had an abortion and who felt compelled to share my story after decades, because I saw the attacks on the right to abortion. And what it would do particularly for poor women, for black and brown and indigenous people across this country. I spoke out and shared that story.

In the 22 states where Republicans control the state legislature and governorship today, all have moved to restrict reproductive rights. More than 25 million women of childbearing age now live in states where abortion access has been curtailed.


And in Washington State my home state, the Seattle Times reported that we are seeing increasing numbers of abortion patients, not only from neighboring Idaho, which we knew we would see, but also from other southern states where these restrictions are enforced.

Mr. Chairman, I seek unanimous consent to enter this Seattle Times record article into the record. She traveled 2000 miles secretly for her Washington abortion. Why patients from the south are coming here to objection.

JORDAN: No objection.

JAYAPAL: As our fundamental freedoms are threatened by extreme mega Republicans in Congress and across the country, we trust that the DOJ will initiate investigations and file lawsuits to protect reproductive rights. With respect to Mr. Preston (ph), what has the department done to protect access to this very safe abortion drug that women can take at home safely and to end a pregnancy?

GARLAND: So the FDA authorized the use of Preston as safe and effective. And it did it back in 2000. That's been challenged first in a district court when we defended the FDA in that matter. There was an appeal in the, to the circuit court, which narrowed the district court's opinion in some ways, but allowed it to go forward in other. We have a file cert petition, which has been granted, I think, in the Supreme Court of the United States.

JAYAPAL: Very, very important work, thank you. My home state of Washington has one of the highest rates of religiously affiliated hospitals in the country, with our state's Insurance Commissioner Office reporting that in 2021, there were several counties lacking even one secular hospital.

This is an issue under the emergency medical treatment and Labor Act, when patients in need of abortion care as a life-saving treatment are denied services under the hospital's policies. What is the department doing to enforce this law mandating that every hospital that receives Medicare funds provide "Necessary stabilizing treatment to patients including abortion care"?

GARLAND: You're right; this is a federal law that expressly preempts any inconsistent state law. For that reason we filed a lawsuit in Idaho. And one in the district court with respect to an Idaho law, that hinged on the rights granted under EMTALA. We have filed I think, a number of statements of interest in other places, and we're continuing to look at where it would be appropriate to intervene.

JAYAPAL: Thank you. You're on record stating that women who reside in states that have banned access to comprehensive reproductive care must remain free to seek that care in states where it is legal. I thank you for that. Can you briefly discuss the progress made by the task force and DOJ to ensure that pregnant people retain their right to travel?

GARLAND: Look, my view about this right to travel is the same as Justice Cavanaugh's in his separate opinion. He said this is not a particularly difficult question. The right to travel is a constitutional right. And it allows women in a state that bars abortion, to travel and obtain an abortion in a state in which it's permitted.

JAYAPAL: Thank you, Attorney General for your commitment to this issue and to upholding the rule of law in our country. Appreciate your service.

JORDAN: Time of the lady had expired. The gentleman from Oregon is recognized for five minutes.

REP. CLIFF BENTZ (R-OR): Thank you, Mr. Chair, thank you, Mr. Attorney General for being here today. I would like to go back briefly to your remarks regarding the before the senate when you were confirmed and your promise regarding Mr. Weiss. Can you explain to us a little more detail who you promised that you would keep Mr. Weiss on this case? To whom was that promise made?

GARLAND: So a number of senators in my meetings with them asked me to make that promise. I think that was discussed in my interchange with senator from Tennessee, I believe.

BENTZ: And did that promise that you made lead you to believe that even if that Mr. Weiss displayed a level of incompetence, that you would be precluded from asking him to step down or precluded from replacing him.

GARLAND: Look, when someone asked me to make this appointment, they didn't ask me depending upon what the outcome was. Mr. Weiss has made his appointment, decisions. And Mr. Weiss is an experienced federal prosecutor with extensive experience and with sufficient credibility to be appointed by President Trump. I just have no grounds for interfering here.

BENTZ: Right. So you haven't answered the question. The question was really what level of incompetence displayed by a prosecutor under your control would it take for you to make a change? But let's move on.


The level of incompetence I'm referring to. And I'll just read this to you. This is the same Weiss who headed an investigation that was trashed by whistleblowers who alleged that his investigation had been fixed for the outset is the same Weiss, who ran an investigation in which agents were allegedly prevented from asking about Joe Biden obstructed in their efforts to pursue questions compromised by tip off to the Biden team on plan searches.

It was the same Weiss, who reported the allowed the statute limitations to run out on hunters major tax offenses, even though we have the option to extend it. There was the same Weiss, who did not indict on major tax felonies and cut a plea deal that brushed aside a felony gun charge.

It was the same Weiss who inked a wildly, widely panned sweetheart deal that caused federal judge a federal judge to balk at and trash a sweeping immunity grant language that even the prosecutor admitted, never been seen in a previous plea deal. So there's a list of what I would suggest, under many people's definition would be incompetence. Are you saying that that's inadequate for you to have questioned what he was doing?

GARLAND: I'm saying that all of these are allegations. I don't know what the facts of them are. I have, as I've explained, stayed out of this investigation. I was not present in the meetings discussed. Some of the meetings occurred under the previous administration, where Mr. Weiss was assigned to the matter by the previous justice department. And I'm not in a position to comment them.

BENTZ: That's too bad. There's a scope of investigation memo generally issued when we start these things out. Who issued that scope of investigation and memo to Mr. Weiss? Was it done back on when he was originally appointed to take on the Biden case? Is that when the memo was telling him what he was supposed to do was issue? Is there a scope of investigation memo was my question?

GARLAND: There's a scope of investigation with respect to Special Counsel and that has been publicly transmitted to the chairman of this Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

BENTZ: Then who wrote it?

GARLAND: Who wrote that scope?

BENTZ: Yes. Who decided what, what should be within the scope of that investigation?

GARLAND: I'm sorry.

BENTZ: Who wrote the memo, who decided what the scope of that?

GARLAND: I decided what should be in the scope, if you'll compare that to the scope of many other Special Counsels that basically is modeled on the format that we've used in the past, not only in this administration, but the previous one.

BENTZ: In your remarks delivered on August 11 of this year, concerning the appointment of David Weiss as Special Counsel, you say upon considering his request, as well as, "The extraordinary circumstances relating to this matter". Can you tell us what those extraordinary circumstances were?

GARLAND: I'm sorry.

BENTZ: OK. So these are your remarks back on August 11.


BENTZ: And it says on Tuesday of this week, Mr. Weiss advised me that I'm just quoting from your memo. This is in what he said.


BENTZ: In his judgment, his investigation has reached the stage at which he should continue his work as Special Counsel. And he asked to be so appointed upon considering his request, as well as, "The extraordinary circumstances related to this matter"; I've concluded it's in the best public interest to appoint him Special Counsel. What were those extraordinary circumstances you're talking about?

GARLAND: Yes. Look at all of these special counsels, including the appointment by Mr. Barr with respect to Mr. Durham uses those phrases. The reason he uses those phrases is because that's in the Special Counsel regulation. I've said as much as I can say with respect to that, without discussing matters relating to a pending investigation. I can't discuss matters with respect to a pending investigation for the reasons I've said. --

BENTZ: Thank you. I yield back.

JORDAN: And the gentleman yields back. The gentleman from California is recognized.

REP. LOU CORREA (D-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Garland, I want to welcome you today to this hearing. Want to turn our attention to something very interesting, more important. The most important thing on Main Street today in my district is drug addiction, narcotics trafficking fentanyl.

I'm going to quote you June 23 of this year, you said, "The U.S. government continues to do everything in our power to disrupt fentanyl trafficking and to prevent more of our communities from being devastated by the fentanyl epidemic". We're not to say we are targeting every step of the movement, manufacturing and the sale of fentanyl from start to finish.

Mr. Garland, I believe that the only thing that cartel leaders fear is the United States prison. I want to thank you for the good job. You recently extradited Ovidio Guzman Lopez, El Chapo's son, thank you very much for that good job.

My question is do you have plans to extradite additional cartel leaders from other parts of the world to the United States to face U.S. justice and a U.S. prison sentence.


GARLAND: Yes, I don't want to get into discussions, our diplomatic discussions over the matter, but obviously we have indicted the other Chapitos, Chapito being the name, the nickname given to the sons of El Chapo.

CORREA: How many of those? How many are there of those?

GARLAND: Trying to remember, I think there may be four more, maybe five? I'm not sure exactly. But they've all been publicly indicted. And of course, we will seek the extradition of it and the apprehension of everyone we've indicted.

CORREA: The apprehension, the indictment of these individuals requires that you have cooperation from foreign countries, especially Mexico since that's where a lot of these cartels are operating. Would you say right now Mexico is cooperating with us in terms of working with your office to bring these cartel leaders to justice? GARLAND: They've obviously worked with us with respect to Ovidio. His apprehension by the Mexicans led to the deaths of significant number of Mexican marines. Ovidio's people are fighting back with 50 caliber machine guns and the marines having to use black hawk attack helicopters in order to arrest him.

CORREA: These U.S. marines or Mexican marines?

GARLAND: I'm sorry.

CORREA: The United States marines or?

GARLAND: No, no, I'm sorry, Mexican marines, some Mexican marines who are playing an important role in the apprehension of the cartel leaders.

CORREA: So Mr. Garland, would you characterize cooperation right now with Mexicans as being good or not good?

GARLAND: I would say cooperation can always be better. We have an enormous problem with respect to fentanyl coming from Mexico from its manufacturer there based on the precursors coming from China based on the cartel leaders.

CORREA: How can we as members of congress help you make sure that other countries have stronger cooperating relationship with us? How can we make sure that they cooperate to their fullest abilities with you?

GARLAND: I appreciate that request. But I'll have to think about it some more. I will say that I've personally traveled to Mexico twice to try to get cooperation with respect to these matters.

CORREA: How important is -- and 702 to your job when it comes to fighting Narco fentanyl?

GARLAND: It's very important. Fentanyl poses a national security problem for the United States.

CORREA: So can you work with us to assure that we put guardrails under around, put guardrails safety measures on 702 to assure that those investigative weapons are not turned against U.S. citizens.

GARLAND: Absolutely. 702 is our crucial essential tool. But like all tools, it has to be properly controlled. And we would be happy to work with congress to make sure that civil liberties are protected.

CORREA: My last minute, I want to turn to the antitrust area. The European Union and the Digital Marketing Act, which this is Digital Markets Act which is designed to protect consumers in Europe. Yet, it looks like most of their focus is on American firms.

And no European companies or other foreign operators in the European Union are being targeted that looks like it's only American firms operating in Europe. And it looks like the DOJ is working to support the efforts of the Europeans in implementing the Digital Marketing Act.

I have 18 seconds; I'm going to submit a written question to your office. But my focus, my interest is making sure American jobs, American companies are successful around the globe, and that they are not in any way hampered from working overseas. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I ran out of time.

JORDAN: Gentleman yields back. The gentleman from New Jersey is recognized for five minutes.

REP. JEFF VAN DREW (R-NJ): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome Attorney General. You know, following your confirmation, Americans were promised they were getting a focused non-partisan to lead their federal law enforcement. I had my doubts back then. And the last two years have more than confirmed in my mind those fears.

Never in my life that I would think that I would see such a politicized DOJ never in my life would I thought I would see such a Department of Justice that didn't obey their own rules. Never in my life did I think I would see the egregious investigations conducted under your watch, or the blatant disregard of the First Amendment, by FBI field offices under your watch.

And never in my life did I think I would see our great DOJ turned into a politicized weapon to be wielded by an investigation to attack political rivals. I still hold the thousands of hard working staff with high regard. But unfortunately there are some within the department in my mind who have betrayed their oaths.