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Senate Judiciary grills Garland on fentanyl, law enforcement, religious investigations

Attorney general touts federal law enforcement agencies

Published: March 1, 2023 10:31am

Updated: March 1, 2023 1:14pm

Attorney General Merrick Garland faced a barrage of questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday while sitting for a wide-ranging query as part of senatorial oversight of federal law enforcement agencies. 

Garland's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee marks the first time the nation's top cop has been before the high-ranking panel since the nationwide controversy began over classified documents found in possession of both former President Donald Trump and current President Joe Biden.

Garland, who was expected to be questioned on those and numerous other controversial federal law enforcement policies, started out by praising federal law enforcement agencies, the employees of which he said "work tirelessly to fulfill our mission: to uphold the rule of law, to keep our country safe, and to protect civil rights."

“Every day, department employees counter complex threats to our national security,” he said. “They fiercely protect the civil rights of our citizens. They pursue accountability for environmental harms. They prosecute crimes that victimize workers, consumers, and taxpayers. They defend our country’s democratic institutions."

Early in the questioning the attorney general faced questions related to the ongoing national scourge of fentanyl, the extremely powerful opioid drug that has been found in huge numbers of illicit drugs around the country. The drug is said to be responsible for tens of thousands of deaths per year in the U.S. 

"If this drug is killing more Americans than car wrecks and gun violence combined," South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Garland at one point, "do you believe that the policies that we have today in effect are working?"

"They are not stopping fentanyl from killing Americans," Garland admitted, stating that federal agencies are "putting all the resources that Congress provides to us" into halting the drug's advance.

Asked elsewhere by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley how the Justice Department handles sourced material about potential criminal conduct of American citizens—specifically how the DOJ "determine[s] the truth and accuracy" of those allegations before moving them—Garland said such claims are "normally reported to whatever the appropriate department component it is."

At one point the attorney general fielded questions from Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley regarding the Federal Bureau of Investigation's highly controversial memo, revealed last month, that indicated the FBI was investigating "radical-traditionalist Catholics" as potential "racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists."

“It’s appalling. It’s appalling," Garland said of the memo. I’m in complete agreement with you."

“I understand that the FBI has withdrawn it and is now looking into how this would ever have happened," Garland said, adding that the memo "does not reflect the methods the FBI is supposed to be using.”

Asked by Hawley if the Department of Justice was "cultivating sources and spies in Latin-mass parishes and other Catholic parishes around the country," Garland indicated he was unaware if any such efforts. 

“I don’t think we have any informants,” he said.

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