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Garland tells Senate panel Capitol riot will be first priority, if confirmed as Attorney General

The longtime judge is expected to sail through his confirmation process

Updated: February 22, 2021 - 1:53pm

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Judge Merrick Garland told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday that the federal investigation into the Capitol riot will be first priority, if confirmed at Attorney General and that he sees "no reason" to end special counsel review of FBI’s Trump probe.

Garland, in his effort to be President Biden's top law enforcement officer, is expected to make the case that he will prioritize civil rights and the political independence of the Justice Department. 

Senators began the hearing by emphasizing the importance of the role Garland has been nominated to fill at such a tempestuous time in our nation's history.

"Judge Garland, should you be confirmed – and I have every confidence that you will be – you will oversee a Justice Department in an existential moment. After four tumultuous years of intrigue, controversy, and brute political forces, the future course of the Department is clearly in transition," said committee Chairman Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin.

Plans to handle the fallout from the Capitol breach played a leading role early Monday in Garland's hearing with Durbin and other Senate Democrats on the panel, including Dianne Feinstein of California, and Sheldon Whitehouse, pressed the nominee on how he would handle the prosecution of those responsible. 

"We begin with the people on the ground and we work our way up to those who are involved and further involved and we will pursue these leads wherever they take us. That is the job of a prosecution," Garland told the panel.

"I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 – a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government," said the judge. "The attorney general takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I am mindful of the tremendous responsibility that comes with this role."

Republican committee members Sens. Ted Cruz  of Texas and Charles Grassley of Iowa, focused their opening questions on Garland's plans to run a department free of politically motivated prosecutions. Grassley specifically questioned Garland about the department's investigation of President Biden's son, Hunter. 

Garland responded that he had not spoken with Biden about the department's investigation but the president "made abundantly clear in every public statement before and after my nomination that decisions about investigations and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department. That was the reason that I was willing to take on this job." 

Garland, a federal appeals court judge, was notoriously blocked by the Republican Senate Majority in 2016, when then-President Barack Obama nominated him to fill the late Antonin Scalia's vacated Supreme Court seat. 

In his opening remarks, Garland discussed the concept of "equal justice," which is something he believes America has not yet attained. "Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system; and bear the brunt of the harm caused by pandemic, pollution, and climate change," said Garland.

Read his full opening statement here.

Garland's nomination has garnered a swath of bipartisan support, such that he will likely sail through the confirmation process unimpeded. 

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