Republicans grill Merrick Garland on Trump, Hunter Biden in combative House Judiciary hearing

Key Points
  • Attorney General Merrick Garland delivered a powerful defense of the Department of Justice and federal law enforcement officers in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.
  • "We will not be intimidated. We will do our jobs free from outside interference. And we will not back down from defending our democracy," Garland told the GOP-led panel.
  • The DOJ is currently prosecuting Donald Trump and Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, in various criminal cases.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on oversight of the Department of Justice, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., Sept. 20, 2023.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick Garland delivered a full-throated defense of federal law enforcement officers and the Department of Justice during more than five hours of testimony Wednesday before the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee.

"We will not be intimidated. We will do our jobs free from outside interference. And we will not back down from defending our democracy," Garland said there.

He was grilled at the session by Republicans frustrated with the DOJ's handling of the prosecution of former President Donald Trump and a separate prosecution of Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden.

The highly anticipated hearing pitted Garland against a committee whose primary mission under its chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, has been to challenge DOJ's practices through a partisan lens.

On the heels of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., authorizing an impeachment inquiry into Biden, Jordan is under increased pressure to uncover evidence that would link Biden to his son's purported crimes. So far, no such evidence has emerged.

"There's one investigation protecting President Biden, there's another one attacking President Trump. The Justice Department has both sides of the equation covered," Jordan claimed in his opening statement, previewing accusations that Republicans used the hearing to try to shore up.

Garland repeatedly pushed back against Jordan, and turned the tables on Republicans who have used their majority in the House to demand DOJ documents about the Hunter Biden and Trump cases.

"Our job is not to do what is politically convenient. Our job is not to take orders from the president, from Congress, or from anyone else, about who or what to criminally investigate," the attorney general said.

Garland took particular issue with the singling out of specific DOJ officials for public criticism.

Among those officials were special counsel Jack Smith, who leads a team prosecuting Trump on 44 felony counts in two separate cases, and U.S. Attorney for Delaware David Weiss, a Trump appointee who is overseeing the prosecution of Hunter Biden on gun and tax charges.

Garland recently appointed Weiss special counsel for the Hunter Biden cases. Weiss as U.S. Attorney has been investigating Hunter Biden since 2018, when Trump was president and Jeff Sessions was his attorney general.

"I promised the Senate when I came before it for confirmation that I would leave Mr. Weiss in place, and that I would not interfere with his investigation," Garland said.

"I have kept that promise."

But Republicans repeatedly sought to portray Garland as having chosen Weiss specifically because his investigation into President Biden's son has moved slowly and deliberately.

Trump and House Republicans have also railed against Smith, with Trump repeatedly accusing him of being "deranged" and of seeking to "take away my right of speaking freely and openly" after the special counsel requested a partial gag order on the ex-president.

Jordan mentioned the special counsel by name in his opening statement, saying, "Jack Smith, the guy who a few years ago was looking for ways to prosecute ... victims of the weaponized government."

At one point, Garland was asked about Trump's repeatedly and widely refuted claim that Biden ordered Garland to pursue a case against Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president in 2024.

"No one has told me to indict. And in this case, the decision to indict was made by the special counsel," Garland replied.

Several Democrats on the committee used their allotted time to take aim at Jordan.

Rep. Adam Schiff's critique of Jordan was especially sharp.

"The chairman would abuse the power of this committee by trying to interfere in the prosecution of Donald Trump, by trying to use the committee's power of subpoena to compel criminal discovery," said Schiff, a California Democrat who became a household name in 2019 when he led the first impeachment of Trump.

Schiff said Jordan was, "In effect, making the committee a kind of criminal defense firm for the former president."