Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday strongly defended recent Justice Department moves that appeared to give legal cover to former President Donald Trump and his appointees.
During a Senate budget hearing, Garland said he was aware of the controversy triggered by the Justice Department’s actions defending Trump in a civil suit and seeking to maintain secrecy around memos sent to former Attorney General William Barr as he responded to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
“I know about the criticism,” Garland said in response to a question from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). “The job of a Justice Department in making decisions of law is not to back any administration, previous or present. Our job is to represent the American people and our job in doing so is to ensure adherence to the rule of law.”
“The fundamental rule of a democracy, or a republic, or a republican democracy, and the essence of the rule of law … is that like case be treated alike, that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, that there not be one rule for friends and another for foes,” Garland told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee.
In recent weeks, many supporters of President Joe Biden have expressed surprise and disappointment at Justice Department decisions seeming to back actions by Trump or his allies. The moves include a brief on Monday continuing the government’s defense of Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by a New York writer, E. Jean Carroll, who accused the then-real estate mogul of raping her in the 1990s in a Manhattan department store fitting room.
In the past week, the White House has issued statements on three occasions to distance itself and Biden from Justice Department decisions or legal filings.
Garland said the decisions to defend cases involving the prior administration were “not always easy.”
“Sometimes we have to make decisions about the law that we would never have made and that we strongly disagree with as a matter of policy,” he said.
Garland stressed that while the department was defending some actions by the Trump administration, it had also changed a series of policies since Biden appointees arrived earlier this year.
“We have reversed policies of the previous administration many times over the last three months,” the attorney general said. “We have initiated our own policies.”
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