US attorney general denies politicizing justice system against Trump

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday rejected accusations by House Republicans that he had politicized the criminal justice system in a bid to stop Donald Trump from reclaiming the White House.

In defiant testimony, Garland told lawmakers he would not allow politics to interfere with the Justice Department's independent criminal investigations, and he accused them of peddling conspiracy theories that could endanger federal law enforcement officers.

"I will not be intimidated," Garland told lawmakers before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. "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."

Tuesday marked the first time Garland has appeared before Congress since a Manhattan jury convicted Republican presidential candidate and former President Trump on 34 counts of falsifying documents to cover up a payment to silence a porn star before the 2016 election.

Trump still faces three other state or federal criminal cases - two brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his mishandling of classified documents - and a state case in Georgia also tied to his actions in the 2020 White House race.

Republicans have claimed all four cases are politically motivated and represent an effort by Trump's rival, President Joe Biden, to interfere in the Nov. 5, 2024 election.

They have threatened to defund Smith's two investigations into Trump.

The Republican-led House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight Committee have also sought to advance contempt proceedings against Garland, after he refused to provide audio recordings of Biden's interview with a second special counsel who investigated Biden's retention of classified records and declined to press charges.

If Trump wins a second term in November, his allies have pledged to stack the Justice Department with loyalists who will do his bidding. Trump has said he wants to use the department to pursue his own political rivals - the very thing Republicans now accuse the Justice Department of doing.

"Many Americans believe there is now a double standard in our justice system," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio said on Tuesday. "They believe that because there is."

Garland blasted Republicans for threatening to defund Smith's investigation, and also accused them of making "false claims that a jury verdict in a state trial, brought by a local district attorney, was somehow controlled by the Justice Department."

"That conspiracy theory is an attack on the judicial process itself," he added.

Some Republicans on the committee nonetheless repeated their theory that the New York case was behind the scenes by the Justice Department, without presenting any evidence.

Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida on Tuesday repeatedly asked Garland whether he had "dispatched" former Justice Department official Matthew Colangelo to work with the New York City prosecutors.

Colangelo, who left the department to work for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, gave the opening statement in Trump's criminal trial.

"It's false," Garland replied. "I did not dispatch Mr. Colangelo anywhere."


Democrats defended the Justice Department, noting that it is currently prosecuting two Democratic lawmakers - U.S. Senator Bob Menendez and Representative Henry Cuellar and - as well as Democratic President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden, whose criminal trial started this week.

"You can be the former president of the United States, but if you commit crimes, you will be held responsible. That's his problem," said Democratic congressman Adam Schiff of California.

"That's the problem of all of my Republican colleagues right now, and that is they're about to nominate a convicted felon, and they don't know how to cope with that."

Republicans are expected to nominate Trump as their presidential candidate at next month's convention.

Garland also defended law enforcement from baseless attacks, after Trump falsely claimed the FBI was "authorized to shoot me" when it executed a search warrant at his Florida estate in the classified documents probe.

Garland lamented the "baseless and extremely dangerous falsehoods" that are being spread about the FBI’s law enforcement operations."

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Jonathan Oatis)