Attorney General Merrick Garland declined to answer questions on a wide range of matters Wednesday in sworn testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.
Garland testified that he couldn’t remember whether he talked to FBI personnel about the investigation of first son Hunter Biden and didn’t know how many confidential informants entered the Capitol during the riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
The attorney general, appointed by President Joe Biden, also hesitated to answer whether Catholics are “violent extremists,” as an infamous FBI memo said.
Here are seven takeaways from the House committee’s hearing at which Garland, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, testified.
1. ‘Traditional Catholics Are Violent Extremists? Yes or No?’
Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., brought up the January memo out of the FBI field office in Richmond, Virginia, detailing plans to spy on American Catholics. The leaked memo said “radical traditionalist Catholics” had the potential to become “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.”
Van Drew asked Garland, who as head of the Justice Department oversees the FBI: “Do you agree that traditional Catholics are violent extremists? Yes or no?”
Garland said: “I have no idea what traditional means here.”
Van Drew then defined the term as “Catholics that go to church.”
Garland, who is Jewish, seemed to become indignant over the question. But he didn’t directly answer.
“The idea that someone with my family background would discriminate against any religion is so outrageous, so absurd,” Garland said forcefully.
Van Drew replied: “Mr. Attorney General, it was your FBI that did this.”
“It was your FBI that was sending—and we have the memo, we have the emails—that were sending undercover agents into Catholic churches,” the New Jersey Republican continued.
Garland replied that he and FBI Director Christopher Wray already had denounced the memo from the FBI’s Richmond field office.
“I and the director of the FBI have said that we were appalled by that memo,” Garland said.
Van Drew again asked: “Are they extremists or not, Attorney General?”
Garland responded: “Everything in that memo is appalling.”
2. ‘Don’t Recollect’ Personal Contact
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., asked about who the attorney general has talked to regarding his department’s investigation of Hunter Biden for failing to file income tax returns reflecting all his overseas business dealings, including in China and Ukraine, and for drug-related gun offenses. That probe began in 2018, during the Trump administration.
“Has anyone from the White House provided direction at any time to you personally or to senior officials at the DOJ regarding how the Hunter Biden investigation was to be carried out?” Johnson asked.
Garland answered, “No.”
From there, the attorney general’s answer became sketchier.
“Have you had personal contact with anyone at FBI HQ about the Hunter Biden investigation?” Johnson asked.
“Uh, I don’t recollect the answer to that question,” Garland testified. “But the FBI works for the Justice Department.”
This answer seemed to surprise Johnson.
“You don’t recollect whether you talked to anybody at FBI headquarters about an investigation into the president’s son?” he asked.
Garland clarified: “I don’t believe that I did.”
Johnson noted that on July 10, 2023, U.S. Attorney for Delaware David Weiss wrote a letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in which the prosecutor said he “had discussions with departmental officials” regarding prosecuting cases in other jurisdictions under federal law (U.S. 28C Section 515).
Johnson asked: “With whom did Mr. Weiss have discussions?”
Garland replied: “I’m not going to get into internal deliberations of the department.”
Johnson: “But you must, sir. This is important for us. We have oversight responsibility over your department and we need these answers.”
Garland declined to give a clear answer.
“I made clear that if he wanted to bring a case in any jurisdiction, he would be able to do that,” Garland said, referring to Weiss. “The way you do that is to get an order signed by the attorney general, called a 515 order.”
Biden-appointed U.S. attorneys in California and Washington, D.C., declined to allow Weiss, a holdover from the Trump administration, to file charges against the younger Biden in their jurisdictions.
Last month, Garland named Weiss as special counsel, giving him more authority to investigate and bring charges under the law in the jurisdictions of his choice.
3. ‘Defunding the FBI’ Would Be ‘Catastrophic’
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, brought up the fact that some Republican lawmakers had called for shutting down the FBI. They did so in protest of what they saw as unequal treatment of Americans under the law, including the FBI raid on former President Donald Trump’s Florida home in August 2022.
“What would be the impact on America of defunding the FBI?” Nadler asked Garland.
The attorney general sounded alarms about such a move.
“Defunding the FBI would leave the United States naked to the maligned influence of the Chinese Communist Party, the attacks by Iranians on American citizens, attempts to assassinate former officials, up to Russian aggression, to North Korea cyberattacks, to violent crime in the United States, which the FBI helps to fight against,” Garland said.
He also said the FBI stops “all kinds of espionage” and pursues
“domestic violent extremists who have attacked our churches, our synagogues, our mosques, and who have killed individuals out of racial hatred.”
“I cannot imagine the consequences of defunding the FBI, but they would be catastrophic,” Garland said.
4. About Weiss: ‘What Changed?’
House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, noted that Weiss at one point wanted to bring charges against Hunter Biden in the District of Columbia, but U.S. Attorney for D.C. Matthew Graves declined to cooperate.
“You said he had complete authority, but he had already been turned down,” Jordan said, referring to Weiss. “He wanted to bring an action in the District of Columbia and the U.S. attorney there said, ‘No, you can’t.’ Then you go tell the United States Senate under oath that he has complete authority.”
Garland replied: “I’m going to say again that no one had the authority to turn him down. They could refuse to partner with him.”
Appearing to be taken aback, Jordan responded: “‘Refuse to partner’ is turning down.”
Garland replied: “It’s not the same, under a well-known Justice Department practice.”
Jordan also asked “What changed?” in the time between the July 10 letter to Graham in which Weiss said he didn’t ask to be named a special counsel and Garland’s Aug. 11 announcement appointing Weiss as special counsel.
“Several days before my announcement, Mr. Weiss had asked to become special counsel,” Garland testified. “He explained that he had reached the stage in his investigation where he thought that appropriate.”
Jordan sarcastically referenced the launch of the Hunter Biden investigation in 2018.
“After five years, what stage are we in?” the Ohio Republican asked. “Are we in the beginning stage, the middle stage, the end stage, the keep-hiding-the-ball stage?”
Garland responded: “This one I would go back to the videotape, where I said I’m not permitted to discuss ongoing investigations.”
Jordan retorted: “Isn’t that convenient.”
“Something changed in 31 to 32 days from July 10 to Aug. 11,” Jordan added. “I think it’s two brave whistleblowers came forward and a judge called BS on the plea deal.”
Jordan was referring to the testimony of two IRS whistleblowers and the collapse of the Justice Department’s plea agreement with Hunter Biden, in which the president’s son would have faced no prison time.
5. ‘People Don’t Pay Bribes to Not Get Something’
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., suggested that the Biden Justice Department’s decision to close the Trump administration’s China Initiative, which since 2018 had investigated Chinese espionage in the U.S., correlated with millions of dollars from Chinese sources going to the Biden family.
Gaetz asked the attorney general: “Why was the China Initiative dissolved?”
Garland replied that China isn’t the only source of espionage and other attacks.
“We face attacks from four nation-states: North Korea, China, Russia, and Iran, and we need to focus our attention on the broad range of these attacks,” Garland said.
Gaetz seemed to scoff.
“Are you saying that North Korea has the same malign influence risk to the United States as the Chinese Communist Party?” Gaetz asked the attorney general. “Because here’s what it looks like. It looks like the Chinese gave all this money to the Bidens and then you guys came in and got rid of the China Initiative.”
Garland responded: “North Korea is a dangerous actor.”
Gaetz later followed up by asking: “Do you know about the money that moved through Rob Walker’s shell company? Yes or no?”
Garland didn’t give a direct answer.
“As I have said repeatedly, I have left these matters to Mr. Weiss,” he said. “I have not intruded. I have not interfered.”
Financial records show that from 2015 to 2017, Biden family members and their companies received $1.3 million in payments from accounts related to Walker, a Biden family associate, according to the House Oversight and Accountability Committee.
In March 2017, about two months after Joe Biden left the vice presidency, State Energy HK Limited, a Chinese company, wired $3 million to Walker’s company. The next day, Walker’s company wired $1.06 million to a company associated with James Gilliar, another Biden family associate.
Afterward, the Biden family members received approximately $1.06 million in payments to different bank accounts over a three-month period.
“It’s like you’re looking the other way on purpose, because everybody knows this stuff is happening. But people don’t pay bribes to not get something in return,” Gaetz told Garland.
“The China Initiative resulted in the convictions of a Harvard professor, of someone at Monsanto,” the Florida Republican said. “So we were working against the Chinese. They paid the Bidens. Now you are sitting here telling me that North Korea is the big threat?”
6. ‘Agents and Assets’ at Capitol Riot? ‘Don’t Know’
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., asked Garland whether any confidential informants were involved in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
“How many agents or assets of the government were present on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 and agitating in the crowd to go into the Capitol, and how many went into the Capitol?” Massie asked. “Can you answer that now?”
Garland replied: “I don’t know the answer to that question.”
Massie then asked: “You don’t know how many there were, or there were none?”
Garland affirmed his lack of knowledge.
“I don’t know the answer to either of those questions. If there were any, I don’t know how many. I don’t know if there are any,” Garland said.
Massie said he didn’t believe the attorney general.
“I think you may have just perjured yourself [by saying] that you don’t know that there were any,” the Kentucky Republican said. “Do you want to say that again, that you don’t know there were any?
The attorney general again said: “I have no personal knowledge of this matter.”
On Tuesday, a federal grand jury indicted Ray Epps, a man seen on video telling protesters to enter the Capitol before the riot, on charges of disorderly or disruptive conduct on restricted grounds.
Some politicians and pundits have questioned why Epps had not been charged earlier, and whether he was a confidential informant.
“By the way, that was in reference to Ray Epps and yesterday, you indicted him. Isn’t that a wonderful coincidence?” Massie asked. “On a misdemeanor. Meanwhile, you’re sending grandmas to prison.”
You are putting people away for 20 years for merely filming [during the Capitol riot]. Some people weren’t even there yet. You’ve got the guy on video who is saying, ‘Go into the Capitol.’ He’s directing people to the Capitol before [Trump’s] speech ends. He’s at the site of the first breach. You’ve got all the goods on him. And it’s an indictment for a misdemeanor? The American public isn’t buying it.
7. ‘That Goes Right to the White House’
Jordan pressed Garland on why Justice Department prosecutors investigating Hunter Biden allowed the statute of limitations to expire for tax charges.
Such charges would have stretched back to the younger Biden’s time on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that paid him $50,000 a month while his father was vice president.
As vice president, Biden oversaw the Obama administration’s policy on Ukraine.
>>> Related: Garland Blames Trump for Stalled Hunter Biden Probe
“They made an intentional decision to say we’re going to let the statute of limitations lapse,” Jordan told Garland. “I want to know who decided that and why they did it.”
Garland punted the answer to Weiss.
“Mr. Weiss was the supervisor of the investigation at that time and at all times,” Garland said. “He made the appropriate decisions. You’ll be able to ask him that question.”
Jordan responded that everyone knows the answer, and it involves the elder Biden.
“Those tax years involved the president. It’s one thing to have a gun charge in Delaware. That doesn’t involve the president of the United States,” Jordan said. “But Burisma, oh my, that goes right to the White House. We can’t have that.”
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.
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