Merrick Garland fires back at Matt Gaetz over his attempts to question him on Trump trial

Attorney General Merrick Garland sparred with Florida congressman Matt Gaetz at a contentious hearing of the GOP-controlled House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday which quickly turned to the recent conviction of Donald Trump.

The hearing, called by GOP members, was to “examine how the [Department of Justice] has become politicized and weaponized” under Garland’s leadership.

But the panel seemed largely focused on last week’s events in New York. Trump was found guilty verdict on 34 felony counts of falsifying business record to cover up payments to porn star Stormy Daniels to hush up her story of an affair in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Gaetz, who attended Trump’s trial along with other rightwing Republicans, pressed Garland to comment on whether it was acceptable for a judge to have a family member benefit financially from media attention surrounding a criminal trial.

Though he did not name hush money trial judge Juan Merchan by name, Gaetz’s question clearly referred to allegations that the judge’s daughter had worked on a digital campaign aligned with Democrats.

Matt Gaetz is seen at Tuesday’s hearing of the House Judiciary Committee as Attorney General Merrick Garland appears before the panel (Middle East Images/AFP via Getty)
Matt Gaetz is seen at Tuesday’s hearing of the House Judiciary Committee as Attorney General Merrick Garland appears before the panel (Middle East Images/AFP via Getty)

Garland responded only to say it was “very clear” that Gaetz was asking him to comment on a case in another juridiction which the US attorney general declined to do.

Garland’s response prompted a “tirade” from Gaetz, as ranking Democratic member Jerry Nadler later characterized it.

“I’m saddened by it because, like you, I’ve given my life to the law!” Gaetz yelled at Garland. “I care deeply about the law.”

Garland had used his opening remarks at the hearing to condemn Trump and members of the GOP for spreading falsehoods about the Justice Department and baseless accusations that President Joe Biden was behind the prosecution of Trump in New York.

“That conspiracy theory is an attack on the judicial process itself,” Garland said.

Republicans, led by the former president, have relentlessly trashed the US justice system and the Manhattan district attorney’s prosecution of Trump as everything from politically motivated to “fascist”.

The ex-president is separately facing three other impending criminal trials, two related to his efforts to change the results of the 2020 election and block Joe Biden from becoming president, and one related to his allegedly illegal retention of classified materials including documents and files related to the US’s military capabilities. He has professed his innocence in all cases.

President Biden merely flashed a grin when asked by a reporter about his 2024 opponent’s conviction on 34 felony counts and how it would affect the election, but expanded on his thoughts significantly on Monday at a private event with campaign donors in Connecticut.

“Folks, the campaign entered uncharted territory last week,” he told his audience.

“For the first time in American history, a former president that is a convicted felon is now seeking the office of the presidency,” Biden added. “But as disturbing as that is, more damaging is the all-out assault Donald Trump is making on the American system of justice.”

Republicans who have raised objections to the multiple prosecutions of Trump, who in essence has been campaigning for re-election since the day he left the White House in 2021, have largely ignored or explained away the former president’s own vows to utilise the Justice Department to go after members of Joe Biden’s family, or the president himself, in a hypothetical second Trump term. Megyn Kelly, an on-again-off-again supporter of Trump in conservative media, even suggested on a broadcast this past week that Barack Obama could be a target of a vengeful Republican-led Department of Justice.

But Trump’s repeated threats to jail his political opponents are nothing new. What’s new are the plans being drawn up by organizations involved with the so-called “Project 2025” effort, which seeks to reshape the federal government along conservative priorities including, most importantly, a massive erosion of the political independence of the Justice Department and attorney general.

Along with going after his political enemies, Trump has made a number of other promises in recent weeks which have been aimed at the American justice system and the integrity of the Department of Justice’s decisions related to criminal prosecution.

In numerous campaign speeches, he has vowed to issue pardons for convicted and charged participants in the January 6 riot, the 2021 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters aimed at halting or reversing the certification of the 2020 presidential election, seemingly at Trump’s urging.

At a recent appearance in Washington DC at the Libertarian Party’s national convention, he also promised to commute the sentence of Ross Ulbricht, the convicted founder of the Silk Road dark web marketplace which served as a major hub for drug sales and other ilicit activity.