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. In reality, it was largely an opportunity for Republicans to vent their frustrations at Garland, while displaying their own loyalties to Trump.

But the panel seemed largely focused on last week’s events in New York. Trump was found guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records 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. The case was brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is not an employee of the Justice Department as he is a locally-elected official.

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 works for a digital firm 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 jurisdiction 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.

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.

Jim Jordan, the committee’s chairman, used his time to focus on two of those cases, both brought by a special counsel appointed by Garland to lead the prosecutions of Trump at the federal level. Jordan berated special counsel Jack Smith, a career prosecutor with the DoJ, and used his question time to badger Garland over whether Smith “asked him” for the job, and why he did not nominate a former attorney general instead to manage “the most high-profile investigation ever”.

Garland responded that he thought Smith to be roundly qualified and stated that he would not have considered any political appointees, such as an AG or deputy AG, for the post. He refused to answer whether Smith was his first choice.

"I appointed somebody who is not a political appointee, somebody who was an independent nonpartisan with a record of career experience as a prosecutor that seemed to me the perfect resume for [doing] that kind of [work],” said the attorney general.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have for months voiced 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 and has demanded such public shows of loyalty. Some, like Speaker Mike Johnson, have even appeared in the gallery as his Manhattan trial proceeded through May. They 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.

The ex-president’s repeated threats to jail his political opponents are nothing new. What’s new are the plans being drawn up by conservative organisations like the Heritage Foundation for what has been described as a massive erosion of the political independence of the Justice Department and attorney general under a Trump second term.

Along with going after his political enemies, Trump has in recent weeks 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 illicit activity.