Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, declared two months ago that the Justice Department had “moved as far left as it can go,” but he may have underestimated Attorney General Merrick Garland.
In the two months since he was excoriated by Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans for his much-criticized school board memo, Mr. Garland has fanned allegations of political hackery by filing a lawsuit over the Texas redistricting map while taking no action on gerrymandering claims in Maryland.
Last month, the FBI raided the home of Project Veritas President James O’Keefe over first daughter Ashley Biden’s allegedly purloined diary, prompting Mr. Grassley to weigh in again over what he called the “brazen and inconsistent standards employed by the Department [of Justice].”
“The Biden DOJ has demonstrated a very troubling pattern of going after the administration’s perceived political enemies,” Project Veritas counsel Harmeet K. Dhillon said in an email.
Despite vowing at his confirmation hearing to keep politics out of prosecutorial decisions, Mr. Garland is rapidly building a reputation on the right for running a department that rewards the Biden administration’s allies and targets its adversaries, a profile at odds with his image on the federal bench as a liberal but fair-minded jurist.
“Part of the problem is it’s not just Merrick Garland, but it’s the other individuals that are inside the Justice Department,” said Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Mr. von Spakovsky singled out the Civil Rights Division, headed by Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pam Karlan, as “probably the worst division for abusing their law enforcement authority and the power of the DOJ for political purposes.”
“They are willing to use the Justice Department to reach their political ends,” Mr. von Spakovsky said. “And I cannot think of anything more dangerous than having someone run the Justice Department who believes that the law-enforcement powers of the country can be used to achieve political objections and to support political allies.”
The Washington Times has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.
The view on the left could hardly be more different. Progressives have despaired over Mr. Garland’s failure to prosecute former President Donald Trump for what they describe as myriad crimes, such as allegedly obstructing the Mueller investigation into Russian election interference.
Leading the charge is House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, who has put public pressure on Mr. Garland to go after the former president.
“I think there’s a real desire on the part of the attorney general, for the most part, not to look backward,” Mr. Schiff, California Democrat, said in an Oct. 19 interview on Yahoo’s Skullduggery podcast. “Do I disagree with that? I do disagree with that, and I disagree with it most vehemently when it comes to what I consider even more serious offenses.”
Asked by CNN anchor Dana Bash last month if Mr. Garland was “letting Trump off the hook,” Mr. Schiff said that “I am concerned about certain things.”
“I am concerned that there does not appear to be an investigation unless it is being done very quietly by the Justice Department of, for example, the former president on the phone with the Georgia secretary of state asking him to find — and really demanding he find — 11,780 votes that don’t exist,” Mr. Schiff said in a Nov. 28 interview.
Mr. Trump has been accused of weaponizing the Justice Department by calling repeatedly for investigations into 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Democrats, but Mr. von Spakovsky rejected the comparison.
“I think that’s a joke. The president [Mr. Trump] might have wanted that to happen. None of that happened,” he said. “On the other hand, you have actual lawsuits being filed and actual actions being taken by the Merrick Garland Justice Department that are clearly an abuse of their law enforcement authority.”
‘You have politicized the department’
For his part, Mr. Garland has denied putting his thumb on the scales of justice to benefit either side.
“When I said I would protect our people from partisan influence with respect to investigations and prosecutions, I meant that and I continue to do that regardless of which side of the aisle is criticizing me for it,” he told the House Judiciary Committee at an Oct. 21 hearing.
To say GOP lawmakers are skeptical would be an understatement. Senate Republicans have accused the Justice Department of stonewalling on information requests into matters such as the reported role of federal agencies in a 2018 incident regarding first son Hunter Biden’s discarded gun.
“When I placed holds on your nominees for the department’s failure to comply with Republican oversight requests, I said either you run the Department of Justice or the department runs you,” Mr. Grassley said at the Oct. 27 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
“Right now, it looks like the Department of Justice is running you,” he said. “Since your confirmation, in less than a year, the department has moved as far left as it can go. You have politicized the department in ways it should not be.”
Other Republican senators were even tougher. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas called on Mr. Garland to “resign in disgrace” over the memo mobilizing the FBI and other agencies after the National School Boards Association called for a federal response into possible “domestic terrorism” at heated school board meetings.
Mr. Garland, who has so far refused to withdraw the Oct. 4 memo, insisted that the directive “is not partisan in any way.”
“It has nothing to do with what I agree with or I don’t agree with,” he said. “I don’t care whether the threats of violence come from the left or the right.”
Two weeks later, the Department of Justice was again accused of political meddling when the FBI conducted a Nov. 6 predawn raid on Project Veritas associates, even though Mr. O’Keefe said previously that he decided not to publish the allegedly stolen diary and turned it over to law enforcement.
The DOJ’s involvement stunned George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley, who asked on his blog, “Since when does the FBI conduct raids over missing diaries?”
In addition, The New York Times was tipped off within an hour of Mr. O’Keefe’s home being raided. The newspaper is fighting a high-profile defamation lawsuit filed by Project Veritas.
Ms. Dhillon accused the Justice Department of violating Supreme Court precedent, the Privacy Protection Act and its own guidance released in July placing restrictions on obtaining information from media outlets involved in newsgathering.
She blasted “the targeting of Project Veritas for the supposed crime of temporarily possessing (and ultimately not publishing) a purported diary belonging to Ashley Biden, all the while repeatedly tipping off the NY Times about raids on the homes of Project Veritas journalists.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued a public challenge this month to Mr. Garland, urging him to sue his state over a redistricting map primed to deliver all eight congressional districts to Democrats in a state where Republicans cast one-third of the votes in 2020.
The Justice Department’s lawsuit alleged that Texas’ map violates the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against minority voters.
“Mr. Garland and the Biden administration can live up to their rhetoric by holding both parties accountable for discriminatory gerrymandering — or it can politicize the Justice Department by holding red states and blue states to different standards,” Mr. Hogan, a Republican, said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Of course, the Biden administration is hardly the first to be accused of politicizing the Justice Department, a charge that dates back at least to J. Edgar Hoover’s days as head of the FBI.
For example, former Attorney General William Barr said that Mr. Trump’s tweets about the prosecution of Trump adviser Roger Stone were making it “impossible for me to do my job.” Former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. famously described himself as President Obama’s “wing man.”
“Unfortunately, this is nothing new,” said Mr. von Spakovsky, co-author of 2014’s “Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department.” “Keep in mind that during the Obama administration, Eric Holder was the first attorney general in U.S. history to be found in contempt of Congress because he refused to provide documents on Operation Fast and Furious. The Justice Department actually refused to enforce that contempt citation.”
Concerns about politicization are growing. The Office of the Inspector General recently identified the nine most pressing concerns facing the Justice Department. The first was “strengthening public trust in its ability to impartially and effectively enforce the nation’s laws.”
“The Department faces a challenge in addressing public perception about its objectivity and insulation from political influence,” said the Oct. 15 report.