Garland faces heated questions about criminal charges against abortion protesters End-shutdown

Attorney General Merrick Garland’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday turned heated as Republican lawmakers questioned him about the prosecution of protesters on both sides of the anti-abortion fight.

Republican anger was focused on two fronts: that the Justice Department had not indicted a single protester under a statue that made it a crime to protest outside the home of a Supreme Court justice and that, separately, a protester against Pennsylvania abortion had been charged under Federal law.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, yelled that the DOJ “sit idly by” by failing to charge a single protester outside judges’ houses in the wake of Dobbs’ decision last year, which struck down the landmark Roe v. Wade’s decision that guaranteed the right of access to abortion.

“We haven’t, but we have defended the lives of judges,” Garland responded, referring to the 70 US marshals he has assigned to protect judges.

“It’s a priority” for the Justice Department to find the people behind the firebombs at the centers, Garland said, adding that one has been found and the Justice Department is happy for more information if Cruz has any.

Cruz also expressed outrage over the prosecution of an anti-abortion protester in Pennsylvania, mark houck. He was acquitted by a jury earlier this year on charges under a federal law that makes it a crime to engage in certain conduct at abortion clinics, or “crisis pregnancy centers,” which are run by anti-abortion groups that focus on young pregnant women to try to pressure them not to seek abortions. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said Houck’s seven children were at home when law enforcement officers took Mark Houck into custody. He cited Houck’s wife’s claim that children were screaming as officers pointed guns at the home.

“That is a shameful act by the Department of Justice and a shameful use of resources,” Hawley said.

Cruz accused the Justice Department of not prioritizing attacks on so-called “crisis pregnancy centers.”

In a subsequent exchange, Cruz also accused Garland of using President Joe Biden’s son Hunter as a “scapegoat” to cover up DOJ investigations into former President Donald Trump. Hunter Biden is under investigation on tax-related charges, and Trump is under investigation for his role in the January 6 riots and for allegedly mishandling documents with classification marks.

“I think you really want to impeach Donald J. Trump. To that end, the Department of Justice has leaked that the DOJ is investigating and intends to indict Hunter Biden. The purpose of those leaks, I believe, was to establish the predicate for an indictment against Trump,” Cruz said, before accusing the Justice Department of leaking an image of classified documents recovered in the August FBI search for Trump’s estate. .

Garland noted that the image Cruz was referring to was from a court file and was “not a leak.” “The leaks violate our standards and requirements,” Garland said. “They are inappropriate and we don’t know where they come from.”

Earlier in the hearing, Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, pressed Garland about the steps the Justice Department has taken to investigate Hunter Biden. Garland reiterated his earlier promise not to interfere in the matter, which is being overseen by the Trump-appointed United States Attorney for Delaware.

Separately, Garland was asked about how the Justice Department is working to prevent fentanyl overdose deaths.

“We all want to work with you on this side,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., in his opening remarks after saying he believes the rise in crime across the country has not been taken “as seriously as we should.” .”

The chair, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Graham began the hearing by questioning Garland about the fentanyl crisis.

Durbin said there is a “general consensus” on the committee that more needs to be done about the sale of “fake drugs sold on social media platforms that have fueled the fentanyl trade.”

Garland said he agrees with the senators that more needs to be done. She said she has met families of children and young adults who often think they are taking prescription drugs bought online, but are actually full of fentanyl. Garland said that in addition to the DEA reaching out to social media companies on the issue, the sale of so-called “fake drugs” should be removed from the platforms and algorithms should not be used to recommend them to users.

Garland also faced questions about the Justice Department’s handling of threats against school board officials. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., accused Garland of creating a “chill effect” for parents trying to protect their children from Covid-era school board policies. He referenced Garland’s decision to mobilize the FBI to work with state and local law enforcement to address the growing threats against school board members and teachers.

Garland responded that the DOJ was only investigating threats of violence against school personnel and that peaceful protests by parents and “vigorous public debate” at school board meetings were protected by the First Amendment.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, asked about security on the southern border, arguing in his question that criminal organizations overwhelmed Border Patrol agents so that traffickers could move drugs into the United States.

Garland said the DOJ is targeting fentanyl with “enormous urgency” and has traveled to Mexico twice to increase cooperation on the issue. She said the border was largely the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security.

“We do what we can do with respect to the jurisdictions that we have,” Garland said.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, pressed Garland on protesters after the Dobbs decision was leaked last year. Lee asked Garland why those who protested outside the Supreme Court justices’ homes have not been indicted, despite their attempts to “influence case law.”

Garland said he ordered more than 70 US marshals to guard judges’ homes around the clock. He said sheriffs have been advised to arrest people under any federal statute.

Garland began her remarks by praising Justice Department employees, responding to criticism that the sprawling agency has politicized its law enforcement.

Garland spoke about the DOJ’s accomplishments under his tenure in upholding the rule of law, keeping the country safe, and protecting civil rights. These include combating the rise in violent crime and hate crimes, working with Ukrainian partners to defend democracy, and protecting reproductive freedom.

“Every day, the 115,000 Justice Department employees work tirelessly to fulfill our mission: upholding the rule of law, keeping our country safe, and protecting civil rights. Every day, our FBI, ATF and DEA agents, and our deputy federal marshals put their lives on the line to thwart threats and respond to crises,” Garland said.

“Every day, department employees counter complex threats to our national security,” he said. “They fiercely protect the civil rights of our citizens. They pursue accountability for environmental damage. They prosecute crimes that victimize workers, consumers, and taxpayers. They defend the democratic institutions of our country. And every day, in everything we do, Justice Department employees uphold and uphold the rule of law that is the foundation of our system of government.”

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., questioned Garland about recent media reports, including NBC News, about illegal child labor in the country. He said the department’s criminal and civil rights divisions were contacting the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services to offer assistance in addressing the problem, though he said a “limited number” of criminal statutes would apply. Garland also said he met with the department’s forced labor task force Tuesday to discuss the reports.

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