Merrick Garland is likely on his way to becoming the next United States attorney general. Conservatives, then, will wait, with probably more than a little foreboding, to find out whether Garland will follow in the political activist footsteps of former President Obama’s attorneys general – Eric Holder in particular. Judging by his performance at his Feb. 22 confirmation hearing, the man who might have been a Supreme Court justice is set to follow in Holder’s footsteps and wield the Department of Justice as a political weapon.
Joe Biden’s AG nominee became something of a Democrat martyr when Obama, with two successful Supreme Court nominations already under his belt, tapped Garland to be the third. But Obama was in his last year as president, and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) denied Garland a hearing.
For Republicans and conservatives, it was perhaps the smartest thing McConnell has done in all his years in the Senate. For the left, it was shamelessly underhanded political maneuvering to deny Obama the opportunity to place a third leftist judge on the highest bench in the land.
Durham Investigation Under Threat
Garland finally got his hearing, though, and Republicans pressed him to pledge that he would not fire John Durham, the former Connecticut prosecutor who is currently leading an investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia collusion hoax. The nominee was evasive on the subject, conceding that his current knowledge of the investigation leads him to believe that there is no reason why it should be shut down.
Though, when Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, attempted to wring from Garland a commitment to preserving the investigation, the response was not one that will give Republicans cause for optimism. “I am a great believer in transparency,” Garland said, “I would, though, have to talk with Durham and understand the nature of what he’s been doing and the nature of his report.”
Of course, with an evenly divided Senate, even the prospect of an Attorney General Garland squashing the Durham investigation is unlikely to prevent the usual suspects among the Republican ranks in the Senate from assuring his confirmation.
Garland’s Extremism Delusion
Perhaps of more concern is the issue that seems to animate Garland more than any other – the question of political extremism and how to deal with it. This topic came up again and again during the hearing – mostly, but not entirely, at the urging of Democrats.
When Senate Democrats and Garland himself speak about political extremism and how great a threat it poses to the United States, they are speaking exclusively about what they consider to be right-wing extremism, specifically white supremacy. If one had watched the confirmation hearing in a vacuum, one would believe that left-wing political extremism does not exist in America today. Particularly, Garland seems to already have decided that his top priority will be prosecuting the so-called insurrectionists who breached the Capitol building during the Jan. 6 pro-Trump demonstration.
In fact, the nominee refused to draw any parallels between what happened in Washington, D.C. and attacks upon federal buildings carried out by Antifa and BLM extremists during the summer of 2020. Garland suggested that a federal courthouse being set ablaze was a mere property crime – essentially nothing more than an act of vandalism – while people forcing their way into the Capitol building and putting their feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk was domestic terrorism.
At a time when so many lawmakers, particularly on the Democrat side, like to talk about bringing the nation together and putting partisanship aside, the man who will almost certainly be the next attorney general seems already set to pursue an agenda at the Justice Department that will further alienate conservatives – deepening a division that is perhaps already too wide and too deep to bridge.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.