US Senate panel to hear from Biden’s attorney general nominee Garland

Judge Merrick Garland, US President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be US Attorney General, speaks as Biden announces his Justice Department nominees at his transition headquarters in Wilmington January 7, 2021. — Reuters pic
Judge Merrick Garland, US President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be US Attorney General, speaks as Biden announces his Justice Department nominees at his transition headquarters in Wilmington January 7, 2021. — Reuters pic

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WASHINGTON, Feb 22 — President Joe Biden’s nominee for US attorney general, Merrick Garland, is expected to face questions today during his Senate confirmation hearing on a range of issues including the threat posed by right-wing extremists, police and sentencing reforms and an investigation involving Biden’s son.

Garland, a federal appellate judge and former prosecutor widely expected to win Senate confirmation as the top US law enforcement official, goes before the Judiciary Committee at a hearing due to start at 9.30am EST (1430 GMT/10.30pm Malaysian time). Garland has said he plans to prioritise civil rights and combating domestic terrorism if confirmed.

He was nominated to lead a Justice Department now in the midst of intensive investigations into the January 6 attack on the US Capitol by a mob of Republican former President Donald Trump’s supporters — an incident Garland called “heinous” in his prepared testimony released on Saturday.

Some of the more than 200 people arrested in the siege were associated with groups such as the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, underscoring rising concern about future violence from right-wing extremists.

Garland has experience in tackling such threats, having managed the sprawling investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by anti-government extremists and supervising the prosecution of the so-called Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski after a deadly bombing spree.

Committee Republicans are expected to press Garland about other matters as well including seeking assurances that he will not remove a special counsel probing actions taken by federal law enforcement officials who investigated contacts between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

Trump claimed the Russia investigation was intended to harm him politically. Bill Barr, Trump’s second attorney general, appointed a federal prosecutor named John Durham to look into the matter and last October elevated him to special counsel, making it more difficult to remove him.

Republican senators also may question Garland on a federal investigation into the Democratic president’s son Hunter Biden, who has disclosed that the probe involves his taxes. A lawyer who previously worked for the law firm hired to handle Hunter Biden’s defence has been chosen to run the Justice Department’s criminal division until Biden picks a nominee for the job.

In his prepared remarks, Garland also vowed to remain free from “partisan influence in law enforcement” and ensure proper protocols are followed for the FBI’s foreign intelligence-gathering activities. Democrats had accused Barr of partisan actions to benefit Trump.

The Senate in 2016, then controlled by Republicans, refused to consider Garland’s nomination by Democratic former President Barack Obama to the US Supreme Court. By doing so, the Republicans enabled Trump in 2017 to fill a Supreme Court vacancy with a conservative justice.

Civil rights advocates are urging the Justice Department to step up enforcement of voting rights, restore its prior practice of holding police departments accountable for civil rights abuses, do more to protect federal inmates from Covid-19 and stop the use of the federal death penalty. They also want the department to deemphasise prosecuting low-level drug offenses that trigger mandatory-minimum sentences. — Reuters

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