There were moments during a Sept. 20 hearing on Capitol Hill when one might have almost felt sorry for Attorney General Merrick Garland. He was compelled to respond to the same questions repeatedly, seeming alternately rattled, tired, and resigned. Then again, had he provided answers sufficiently comprehensive to dispel the doubts of the Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee, he may have had a better day.
House Democrats, of course, wanted to relitigate the events of Jan. 6, 2021, or talk about fentanyl – certainly a worthy topic of discussion. But these were transparent attempts to avoid the elephant in the room, which is, of course, the Biden pay-to-play scandal. Republicans stuck fast to the Biden family affair, grilling Garland on the Justice Department’s handling of the Hunter Biden investigation.
Garland in the Hot Seat
The questions Garland had to answer most often concerned the appointment of David Weiss as a special counsel in the investigation and a statute of limitations issue.
Weiss – who, as the AG pointed out multiple times, was appointed by former President Donald Trump – led the investigation even before Joe Biden came to the White House. This career prosecutor, however, was known to the First Family, having worked previously with both of Joe Biden’s sons, Hunter and the late Beau. Weiss was elevated from prosecutor to special counsel only a short time before he would have testified before the House Judiciary Committee. Republicans suspect the appointment was made at that time specifically to shield Weiss from having to testify.
The biggest problem, as Republicans see it, is the discrepancy between how Garland described Weiss’ authority and what an IRS whistleblower had to say about it. The attorney general insisted repeatedly that Weiss had complete authority to bring charges against Hunter Biden in any appropriate jurisdiction. However, the whistleblower, in testimony, claimed Weiss declared during a meeting that he did not have the final say in prosecutorial decisions. That was corroborated by others at the meeting. Weiss was told by prosecutors in both DC and the Central District of California that he could not charge Biden in their districts. Garland told the committee that those prosecutors had no authority to refuse. So, something doesn’t add up.
The statute of limitations had expired for potential tax crimes Hunter Biden may have committed during his time working for the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings. Several whistleblowers have testified that the Justice Department did everything it could to slow-walk the investigation. Republicans suspect that this foot-dragging was intentional to allow the statute of limitations to expire. That way, the whole Biden-Burisma affair – which is at the very heart of the alleged influence-peddling involving Joe and Hunter Biden – would be off the table.
There were some heated exchanges during the hearing, but the refrain from Garland was always the same: Weiss made those decisions; I was not involved; I don’t know the answer to that; I can’t comment on that.
Garland cannot possibly be oblivious to the fact that a great many Americans do not trust his department. Worse, they believe the DOJ has been weaponized against Donald Trump and conservatives in general. Even if that were not true – and especially if it were not true – one would have thought the man in charge of the Justice Department would go the extra mile to prove the DOJ is truly apolitical and objective. Evasion and vague answers do nothing to restore confidence in Garland’s department. Republicans gained little from this hearing, but, by the same measure, Merrick Garland, the DOJ, and the White House did not win back even a shred of credibility among those Americans who believe, rightly or not, that they deserve none.