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Attorney General Merrick Garland clashes with House Republicans

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Attorney General Merrick Garland appeared on Capitol Hill today for a contentious oversight hearing. Republican lawmakers grilled him about the Justice Department's treatment of former president and current presidential candidate Donald Trump, and Garland pushed back against what he called improper attacks on the institution he leads. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson followed the hearing. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: The justice system is under a lot of stress right now, and so is the attorney general. What was the tenor of this hearing in the Republican-led judiciary committee today?

JOHNSON: Let's step back for a second. This is really a remarkable moment. Just four days ago, a New York jury convicted Donald Trump for falsifying business records. And today, in Delaware, a federal jury heard opening statements and a gun case against the sitting president's son, Hunter Biden. And in the middle of all of this, Merrick Garland showed up for a regular oversight hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. He basically said he's sick and tired of people advancing bogus conspiracy theories and making threats against his agents and prosecutors.

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MERRICK GARLAND: 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 democracy.

SHAPIRO: Well, Carrie, Republicans have been saying for a long time that they believe the Justice Department has been weaponized against them and against Donald Trump. What did those lawmakers say to Garland today?

JOHNSON: Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida asked a lot of questions today about the state prosecution of Trump in New York. He focused on how a Justice Department official right here in D.C. went on to work for the Manhattan District Attorney and became part of the team that won the 34 felony convictions against Trump. But the attorney general, Merrick Garland, said he had absolutely nothing to do with that.

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GARLAND: We do not control the Manhattan district attorney. Manhattan district attorney does not report to us. The Manhattan district attorney makes its own decisions about cases that he wants to bring under his state law.

JOHNSON: And another lawmaker, this time a Democrat, pointed out the Justice Department is prosecuting several prominent Democrats - Hunter Biden, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey and representative Henry Cuellar of Texas, too.

SHAPIRO: And while this hearing was going on, Donald Trump went on social media and made some allegations about the Justice Department search of his Florida property, where classified documents were found. Tell us more about what's at stake there.

JOHNSON: Trump and his allies have been pointing to language about that search of Mar-a-Lago to claim that federal agents were prepared to use deadly force against him. But the attorney general told Congress that's both dangerous and false. Merrick Garland says that language is standard operating procedure, basically - a routine matter every time the FBI conducts a search. Former FBI agents have said the same language was in place when the FBI searched President Biden's home for classified documents as part of a different investigation that ended with no criminal charges.

SHAPIRO: And this is the same committee, as you've reported, that voted along party lines last month to hold the attorney general in contempt over the investigation into President Biden. What is the latest on that?

JOHNSON: Republicans want audio tapes of the interview Biden did with the prosecutor, and the Justice Department has turned over written transcripts. But Biden has asserted executive privilege over the tapes. The attorney general says there's no need for those tapes because Congress already has the transcripts. But Republican leaders in the House are mulling whether they have enough votes to hold Garland in contempt. Media and conservative groups have sued for those tapes, too, but it's not at all clear they will get them before the presidential election in November.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thank you.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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