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Garland slams attacks on the Justice Department, telling lawmakers: ‘I will not be intimidated’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Merrick Garland rebuked Republicans Tuesday for what he described as unprecedented attacks on the Justice Department, telling lawmakers who have sought to hold him in contempt that he will “not be intimidated.”

Appearing before a House panel led by allies of Donald Trump, Garland condemned as a “conspiracy theory” the claim that the department was behind the New York state court prosecution that led to the former Republican president’s conviction last week on 34 felony charges. And Garland slammed other “baseless and extremely dangerous falsehoods” being spread about law enforcement.

His unusually fiery testimony amounted to a forceful defense of the independence and integrity of the Justice Department at an unprecedented moment in which it is prosecuting both Trump and President Joe Biden’s son. Amid an onslaught by Trump and his Republican allies, Garland said his agency will not be deterred in its commitment to uphold the rule of law.

Garland described a Republican effort to hold him in contempt as the latest in “a long line of attacks” on the Justice Department.” Those attacks “have not, and they will not” influence the department’s decision making, Garland told lawmakers.

“I will not be intimidated,” Garland said. “And the Justice Department will not be intimidated. We will continue to do our jobs free from political influence. And we will not back down from defending our democracy.”

Republicans used the House Judiciary Committee hearing to push the claim that Biden has weaponized the department to go after Trump, even as the Democratic president’s son Hunter stands trial on federal firearms charges in Delaware. Trump — who is charged in two criminal cases brought by the Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith — has cast himself as the victim of a politically motivated legal system as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee vies to reclaim the White House in November.

Since his conviction in the New York trial last week, Trump and his supporters have escalated their attacks on the criminal justice system, slamming prosecutors, the judge and the jury. Trump and his allies have suggested the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a state-level prosecutor, was orchestrated by Biden.

Garland described that unsupported assertion as an “attack on the judicial process itself.”

The attorney general also slammed as dangerous Trump’s distorted claim that the FBI agents who searched his Mar-a-Lago estate in August 2022 were “authorized to shoot” him and were “locked & loaded ready” to take him out. The former president was referring to the disclosure in a court document that the FBI, during the search, followed a standard use-of-force policy that is actually meant to limit the use of deadly force.

Garland appeared nearly overcome by emotion at one point when asked about the department’s role in upholding the rule of law, pausing with his hands clasped on the table in front of him.

“I have devoted my entire career to ensuring that the rule of law is the rule that the Justice Department applies and the courts apply — that we follow the precedents, that we treat like cases alike, that we do not have enemies or friends, that we do not pay attention to the political parties or the wealth, or the power, or the influence that we are investigating,” the attorney general said.

His appearance came as Republicans have moved to hold him in contempt for the administration’s refusal to hand over audio of President Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur, which focused on the president’s handling of classified documents.

A transcript of Biden’s interview has been made public, but the president asserted executive privilege over the audio last month to block its release. The White House has said Republican lawmakers only want the audio so they can chop it up and use it for political purposes.

Republicans, meanwhile, have accused Biden of trying to suppress the audio because he doesn’t want the public to hear it before the election. In his report concluding that Biden should not face charges for his handling of classified documents, Hur wrote that the 81-year-old president would likely present himself to a jury “as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

The Justice Department has argued witnesses might be less likely to cooperate if they know their interviews might be heard by the public. And in recent court filing, it raised concerns that releasing the audio could spur deepfakes and disinformation that trick Americans.

“I view contempt as a serious matter,” Garland told lawmakers. “But I will not jeopardize the ability of our prosecutors and agents to do their jobs effectively in future investigations.”

Shortly after the hearing began, House Speaker Mike Johnson announced a “three-pronged” plan to address what he described as the “weaponization” of the justice system against Trump. The approach, according to the Louisiana Republican, will look to circumvent the authority of the Justice Department and local prosecutors in the Trump case through legislation, funding and oversight.

Rep. Jim Jordan, the committee’s top Republican, criticized Garland in his opening statement for a broad array of what he depicted as politically motivated decisions by federal law enforcement — including the conclusions by different special counsels that Trump criminally mishandled classified documents while Biden did not.

“Many Americans believe there’s now a double standard in our justice system. They believe that because there is,” Jordan said.

Garland strongly pushed back on Republican questions he said were underpinned by false premises, and Republicans seemed exasperated at some points by his refusal to be drawn into extensive back-and-forth. When at one point, Garland asked for the ability to finish his answer, Rep. Andy Biggs, a conservative Arizona Republican, said no because he was being “nonresponsive.”

But the attorney general also appeared uneasy at some friendly questions from Democrats who tried to underscore the Justice Department’s independence by discussing specific cases. Garland repeatedly refused to respond to questions about specific investigations. For example, when one lawmaker asked Garland whether Trump had been interviewed by federal prosecutors before his indictments, he refused to answer, even though the answer is known to be no.

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Associated Press reporter Farnoush Amiri in Washington contributed.

By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER and ERIC TUCKER
Associated Press

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