Attorney General Merrick Garland blasts conspiracy theories about Trump criminal case and FBI

Garland is speaking before the House Judiciary committee on Tuesday.

ByAlexander Mallin ABCNews logo
Tuesday, June 4, 2024
AG Garland blasts conspiracy theories about Trump criminal case
Attorney General Merrick Garland pushed back on "false" and "extremely dangerous" narratives during an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

Attorney General Merrick Garland pushed back forcefully on "false" and "extremely dangerous" narratives he said are being spread about the Department of Justice in an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, saying he and the department "will not be intimidated."

The hearing came as House GOP lawmakers threaten to hold Garland in contempt for withholding records they've subpoenaed from Special Counsel Robert Hur's investigation into President Joe Biden's handling of classified documents following his vice presidency, including audio recordings of Hur's interview.

"Certain members of this Committee and the Oversight Committee are seeking contempt as a means of obtaining -- for no legitimate purpose -- sensitive law enforcement information that could harm the integrity of future investigations," Garland said in his opening statements. "This effort is only the most recent in a long line of attacks on the Justice Department's work."

Garland's appearance before the committee became contentious from the start as Rep. Matt Gaetz kicked off questioning for Republicans. He peppered Garland with a combination of hypotheticals that the attorney general declined to engage with while trying to tie the Justice Department to state-level investigations independent from the department.

Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies before the House Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, June 4 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies before the House Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, June 4 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Gaetz pressed Garland about the Justice Department's interactions with the offices of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose investigation into former President Donald Trump resulted in a jury convicting him on 34 felony counts last week, and Fulton County, Georgia's District Attorney Fani Willis, the prosecutor who brought a sprawling racketeering case against Trump.

The Florida Republican asked Garland whether the Justice Department will provide any documents and correspondence between the department and their offices. Garland responded that both those offices are independent from the Justice Department and said any requests for correspondence from Congress would be referred to the Office of Legislative Affairs.

Gaetz then hit back arguing that by refusing to immediately hand over any such documents, the Justice Department is only fomenting more conspiracy theories.

During the back-and-forth, Garland repeated that the Justice Department had no involvement in Bragg's investigation. In his opening remarks, Garland said that "conspiracy theory is an attack on the judicial process itself."

"The case in New York is brought by the Manhattan district attorney independently on his own volition, as [his] own determination of what was, what he believed was a violation of state law," Garland said to Gaetz.

Garland also rebuked "baseless and extremely dangerous falsehoods ... being spread about the FBI's law enforcement operations," he said, an apparent reference to conspiracy theories spread by Trump and his allies that Biden authorized the use of deadly force in the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago in August 2022.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, a Democrat, asked Garland what the impact is on the department when Trump and Republicans baselessly claim that Biden sought to assassinate Trump during the search of Mar-a-Lago. As part of the Aug. 8, 2022, operation at Mar-a-Lago, FBI agents were given a standard policy document that limited the use of deadly force, according to the unsealed memo.

"This is dangerous. It raises the threats of violence against prosecutors and career agents," Garland said. "The allegation is false, as the FBI has explained, the document that's being discussed is our standard use of force protocol, which is a limitation on the use of force, and which is routinely part of the package for search warrants, and was part of the package for the search of President Biden's home as well."

Garland grew visibly emotional as he was asked by Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean about his concerns that institutions like the Justice Department are under attack in the U.S.

"Attacks on the rule of law tear down those confidences in the basic, fundamental element of our democracy that all people will be treated equal," Garland said. "And I intend to continue to protect the rule of law, to protect the ... career employees of my department to make sure they can continue to go about their job, which is to do the right thing every day and not to be distracted by outside influences, political, or otherwise."

Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican, pressed Garland over his appointment of Jack Smith as special counsel, leveling various suggestions that Smith was a political hit man out to "get" Trump.

"I appointed somebody who was not a political appointee, somebody who was independent, non partisan, with a with a record of career experience as a prosecutor. That seemed to me the perfect resume," Garland said.

Garland also answered directly when Jordan pressed whether he regretted picking Smith to oversee the investigations into Trump.

"No, I do not regret picking him," Garland said.

Garland defended the Justice Department's recent decision to urge Biden to assert executive privilege over the remaining records from Hur's investigation, arguing that handing over the materials could have the impact of jeopardizing future high-profile investigations.

"I view contempt as a serious matter. But I will not jeopardize the ability of our prosecutors and agents to do their jobs effectively in future investigations," Garland said. "I will not be intimidated. And the Justice Department will not be intimidated. We will continue to do our jobs free from political influence. And we will not back down from defending our democracy."