US Attorney General Merrick Garland has denied that politics has any influence on investigative decisions, as he faced Republican lawmakers who have accused the Justice Department of unjustly “targeting” former President Donald Trump.
Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning, Garland said the department’s job “is to pursue justice without fear or favour”.
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“Our job is not to take orders from the president, from Congress, or from anyone else, about who or what to criminally investigate,” Garland told the panel of United States legislators.
“I am not the president’s lawyer. I will add, I am not Congress’s prosecutor. The Justice Department works for the American people. Our job is to follow the facts and the law – that is what we do.”
Garland, who was appointed by President Joe Biden in 2021, has faced criticism from Republicans over recent indictments against Trump, who remains the frontrunner in the GOP’s 2024 presidential race despite facing four separate criminal cases.
His testimony also comes a week after the Republican-led House launched an impeachment inquiry into Biden, related to his son Hunter’s foreign business dealings.
The White House has dismissed that probe as politically motivated and unsubstantiated.
Special Counsel Jack Smith, appointed by Garland last November after the attorney general recused himself from Trump investigations, has secured two federal indictments against the former Republican president so far this year.
In those federal cases, Trump has been accused of mishandling secret government documents and unlawfully seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election that he lost to Biden, respectively.
The ex-president has pleaded not guilty in both indictments and accused the US Department of Justice of seeking to derail his 2024 campaign.
Jim Jordan, the Republican chair of the House committee, has accused Garland of doing President Biden’s bidding by going after his likely opponent in next year’s presidential race.
The committee has “serious concern that Mr Smith is not running an impartial and unprejudiced investigation and prosecution”, the congressman said in a letter to Garland last month.
Republicans also have accused Garland of soft-peddling an investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter, who was charged on September 14 with firearms-related offences.
They have said – without providing any evidence to back up their claims – that Hunter improperly parlayed business schemes in Ukraine, China and elsewhere to earn millions of dollars for himself and his father.
“The fix is in,” Jordan said at the start of Wednesday’s committee hearing. “Even with the face-saving indictment last week of Hunter Biden, everyone knows the fix is in.”
Responding to Jordan’s opening remarks, Democrat Jerry Nadler said Republicans were “desperate” to distract from Trump’s legal troubles.
“Just about every assertion you made in your opening statement has been completely refuted by witnesses who have testified before this committee,” Nadler said.
“Extreme MAGA Republicans have poisoned our vital oversight work,” he added, referring to allies of Trump, who campaigned for the White House in 2016 under the slogan “Make America Great Again”.
“They have wasted countless taxpayer dollars on baseless investigations into President Biden and his family, desperate to find evidence for an absurd impeachment and desperate to distract from the mounting legal peril facing Donald Trump,” Nadler said.
In August, Garland elevated David Weiss, a federal prosecutor who has been handling Hunter’s case, to special counsel, expanding his investigative authority.
Last week, Weiss’s office charged the younger Biden with three criminal counts related to firearms possession, accusing him of making false statements related to drug use in order to acquire a gun in 2018.
Hunter was set in July to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax counts and agree to enroll in a programme to avert a gun charge as part of a deal, but the agreement collapsed after a federal judge questioned its terms.
On Wednesday, Garland said the Justice Department applies “the same laws to everyone”.
“There is not one set of laws for the powerful, and another for the powerless; one for the rich and another for the poor; one for Democrats and another for Republicans; or different rules depending upon one’s race or ethnicity or religion,” he told lawmakers.