Garland, Wray to face Congress amid rising political and international tensions

Washington — Weeks after the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance a contempt of Congress resolution against him, Attorney General Merrick Garland is appearing before the panel for an oversight hearing, where he is expected to push back against the move as unfounded and serving “no legitimate purpose.”

House Republicans on the Judiciary and Oversight Committees last month voted to move forward with contempt resolutions against Garland for defying their request for audio recordings from the federal probe into President Biden’s handling of classified records.

The Justice Department said on the eve of the contempt vote that it could not comply with the congressional subpoena for a recording of former special counsel Robert Hur’s interview with Mr. Biden because the president asserted executive privilege over the audio. Prosecutors had previously released the deposition transcript and it remains uncertain whether the contempt vote will be brought to the full House for a vote. 

According to a portion of Garland’s prepared remarks obtained by CBS News, the attorney general is expected to strike a more defiant tone than in past hearings, telling the committee, “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.” 

The Justice Department has argued handing over the actual recording of Mr. Biden’s interview risked chilling future investigations. 

“I view contempt as a serious matter,” Garland is expected to say Tuesday. “But I will not jeopardize the ability of our prosecutors and agents to do their jobs effectively in future investigations.”

The special counsel, who was appointed by Garland to lead the probe, opted not to charge Mr. Biden as part of the investigation, but criticized his handling of the classified records and questioned whether prosecutors would have been able to convince a jury to convict Mr. Biden, given his age and memory. 

In response to last month’s executive privilege claim, Jim Jordan, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee alleged, “President Biden is asserting executive privilege for the same reason we need the audio recordings — they offer a unique perspective.”

The White House and Mr. Biden rejected Hur’s characterizations of the president’s recall in the interview and argued the transcript offered a more complete representation of the deposition. 

Hur is not the only special counsel Garland has appointed in his three years leading the Justice Department, and he is likely not the only independent investigator for whom Garland will have to answer while testifying on Tuesday. 

Special counsel Jack Smith has brought two cases against former President Donald Trump — one tied to the 2020 election and the other connected to his handling of classified records. Meanwhile, special counsel David Weiss, a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney from Delaware, is currently in the midst of a trial against the president’s son, Hunter Biden. He alleged Hunter Biden illegally purchased a firearm while using drugs. 

Both Trump and Hunter Biden have pleaded not guilty, denied wrongdoing and accused the Justice Department of letting politics influence the probes, accusations from both the political right and left that Garland has rebuffed. 

“[The contempt threat] is only the most recent in a long line of attacks on the Justice Department’s work,” the attorney general is expected to tell Congress Tuesday. “It comes alongside threats to defund particular Department investigations, most recently the Special Counsel’s prosecution of the former President.” 

A Justice Department spokesperson said in a statement ahead of the testimony that Garland will highlight the department’s work throughout his tenure and “forcefully push back on false narratives regarding the Department’s employees and their work.” 

The three years Garland had spent atop the Justice Department have yielded results in what he has said are department priorities, including allegations of war crimes filed in connection with Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, antitrust cases brought against corporate giants like Apple and Ticketmaster and efforts to curb violent crime. 

Still, Tuesday’s testimony from the attorney general and the questions from the panel will likely highlight the partisan political tensions.

“We are seeing heinous threats of violence being directed at the Justice Department’s career public servants,” Garland will tell Congress Tuesday. 

Notably, he is also expected to address Trump’s conviction in New York state court last week on 34 felony counts, calling insinuations from Trump and his supporters that the Justice Department was involved “false.” 

“That conspiracy theory is an attack on the judicial process itself,” Garland will say, according to a copy of his remarks obtained by CBS News. 

“These repeated attacks on the Justice Department are unprecedented and unfounded….These attacks have not — and they will not — influence our decision making.” 

One of the Justice Department’s top officials, FBI Director Christopher Wray, is scheduled to appear before a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee hours after the attorney general faces the House committee. 

During his most recent appearance on Capitol Hill, Wray warned, “I’d be hard-pressed to think of a time where so many threats to our public safety and national security were so elevated all at once.” He is likely to reiterate those concerns on Tuesday afternoon. 

The FBI director told Congress in April the ongoing conflict in Gaza has prompted an increase in threats against the U.S., with the most imminent danger posed by those seeking to carry out attacks on U.S. soil. 

During that testimony earlier this year, Wray, like Garland, also warned of “increased threats” against agents and facilities. “Having a badge is dangerous enough. It shouldn’t also make you a target,” he said. 

Since then, Smith, the special counsel investigating Trump, asked a federal judge to limit the former president’s public comments after Trump made false claims that FBI agents were “authorized to shoot” him as they executed a court-authorized search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago residence in August 2022. Smith alleged last month that Trump had “grossly distorted these standard practices by mischaracterizing them as a plan to kill him, his family, and U.S. Secret Service agents.” His social media posts and campaign emails about the topic, prosecutors wrote, “pose a significant, imminent, and foreseeable danger to the law enforcement agents.” 

Trump opposed the move and the federal judge overseeing that case has yet to rule on the matter and asked for further briefing in the coming weeks. 

In a statement, the FBI said, “The FBI followed standard protocol in this search as we do for all search warrants, which includes a standard policy statement limiting the use of deadly force. No one ordered additional steps to be taken and there was no departure from the norm in this matter.”

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