Democrats are rushing to defend Attorney General Merrick Garland amid growing concerns by Republicans that the Justice Department is out to get conservatives.
Congressional Democrats are trying to make their case about Mr. Garland‘s independence by pointing to former President Donald Trump, who remains at the center of an investigation by the Justice Department over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
“The Justice Department was politicized under the Trump administration, and they’re curing it now. Garland is being very fair, and they’re trying to clean up the department,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees the department.
In recent years, both parties have expressed concern about partisanship influencing the Justice Department and infringing on the agency’s independence. During the Trump administration, Democrats accused Attorney General William Barr of protecting Mr. Trump and punishing his opponents.
Republicans now have become increasingly vocal about accusing Mr. Garland of coming after supporters of Mr. Trump and conservative causes.
Last week, Sen. Charles E. Grassley said in a letter to Mr. Garland and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray that he had been contacted by current and former “highly credible whistleblowers” about the FBI’s alleged attempts to discredit the investigation into Hunter Biden, President Biden’s scandal-ridden son.
“It looks to me that there’s some people in the FBI and maybe even in the Justice Department that have some bias and they use that bias to close cases and open cases and people should have confidence that that doesn’t exist in the FBI,” Mr. Grassley said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an oversight hearing of the FBI on Thursday, when Mr. Wray will testify.
Republicans have also criticized Mr. Garland for being too lax on demonstrators who have protested in front of Supreme Court justices’ homes, and targeting parents at school board meetings to mitigate any violent threats posed against education officials.
Mr. Garland has also been aggressively going after abortion restrictions passed by red states amid the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in June.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state of Idaho for its ban on abortion in most cases, claiming it violates federal law and doesn’t consider medical emergencies.
House Republicans, who are in a bullish election year, have promised to investigate Mr. Garland‘s activities if they win back the House majority in November.
Some lawmakers have even mulled impeachment proceedings against the attorney general.
Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said more than a dozen whistleblowers have come to him alleging that the Justice Department under Mr. Garland and Mr. Biden has become overtly political.
One example Mr. Jordan provided to The Washington Times is alleged pressure felt by department staff to label certain cases as being connected to domestic extremism.
“When you have a Justice Department that’s political and not focused on the rule of law and equal treatment under the law, you have a problem,” Mr. Jordan said.
Despite the widespread support Mr. Garland enjoys among Democrats, some of them have also expressed frustrations over his hesitance to move swiftly on prosecuting several Trump associates with contempt of Congress for not cooperating with the Jan. 6 committee.
Members of the committee, made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, voiced their frustrations earlier this year, daring Mr. Garland to “do his job” and criminally charge those who snubbed the panel. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon was charged with contempt, and was convicted by a jury last month.
Mr. Garland faces the most pressure over whether he will indict Mr. Trump, who may become the 2024 Republican nominee if he makes another bid for the White House.
In an interview with NBC News last week, Mr. Garland did not specify by name any possible actions he plans to take against Mr. Trump, instead promising to “hold accountable anyone who was criminally responsible for attempting to interfere with the legitimate, lawful transfer of power from one administration to the next.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, said he wants to see the department target more heavily those involved in the riot, beyond the demonstrators.
“I do think [Garland] is being extremely cautious as he tries to rebuild the department and that’s preventing him from taking some steps,” Mr. Whitehouse said.
Mr. Whitehouse praised the raid by federal investigators on former Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark’s home as a good move under Mr. Garland‘s authority.
Rep. Hank Johnson, Georgia Democrat, said he stands by Mr. Garland‘s judgment and believes anyone who broke any laws, whether it’s Hunter Biden or Mr. Trump, will be prosecuted fairly under his watch.
“Merrick Garland has been doing an excellent job depoliticizing the Justice Department which was so infected by politics under the reign of Donald Trump,” Mr. Johnson said. “I’m confident that if any wrongdoing is uncovered, it’ll be prosecuted to the fullest extent.”
Under Mr. Trump, Democrats accused Mr. Barr of buckling often under the president’s pressure.
While he was in office, Mr. Trump called on his Justice Department to investigate his 2016 general election opponent, Hillary Clinton; Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and senior officials within the FBI whom he claimed were biased against him.