Return to Transcripts main page


Confirmation Hearing for Attorney General Nominee Merrick Garland; Supreme Court Allows Release of Trump Tax Records to New York Prosecutor. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 22, 2021 - 11:00   ET



MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Under the law as it existed at the time.


It's not only that I'm worried about losing a tool that's essential, it's also that I'm worried about a transgressing the constitutional rights of Americans. Both of those are important and I have to say, probably the latter is way more important in my view. We have to be careful about respecting American citizens' constitutional rights.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Thank you, Judge.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Thanks, Senator Cornyn.

Senator Klobuchar?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Congratulations on your new job.

And congratulations to you, Judge Garland, on your nomination.

GARLAND: Thank you.

KLOBUCHAR: I was -- I listened with much happiness in your opening remarks when you talked about being the lawyer for the people that you want to serve the law and not factional purposes and that you use the important adjective "humble". I think we could need a little bit more of that in this town, so I appreciate that.

And I was also glad that you mentioned when President Biden nominated you, Attorney General Edward Levi who taught an iconic first year law class at University of Chicago that I took and like Edward Levi, who took office after Watergate, you will take on the Department of Justice at a critical time and will have the great task of restoring its ideals of independence and fidelity to the Constitution and to the law.

What is the number one thing that you want to do to boost moral in the Department of Justice on day one? GARLAND: Well, on day one, I'm -- hopefully, if I'm confirmed, I will

take an oath in which I say all of the things that you just said. I want to make clear to the career prosecutors, the career lawyers, the career employees, the career agents of the department, that my job is to protect them from bipartisan or other improper motives.

I then hope to have an opportunity over the next few months to visit with as many members of the Justice Department as possible. In a pandemic, unfortunately, this will have to be over Zoom.

I have -- I would much prefer to be able to go down to the great hall at the cafeteria and mingle with folks and let them hear what's in my heart about this. But I'm afraid that technology is the only way I'm going to be able to do it.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay. Very good.

One of the things that troubled me along these lines was the pardon process that was -- that President Trump undertook. And one study found that 88 percent of the pardons that he granted had some sort of personal or political connection to the former president.

What do you think we need to do to restore integrity to the pardon process? Obviously, it's important power of the president. What do you think you can do from the attorney general's position?

GARLAND: Well, Senator, you're right. This is a power granted by the Constitution to the president.

I think the role of the Justice Department through its pardon attorney is to provide a careful and visualized examination of the people who are asking to be pardoned. The office has a sense -- a set of very detailed regulations which describe when people are appropriate for pardons and when they are not. It provides an important screen that not only yields who maybe should be pardoned but also protects the president from improper influence.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay. Just a few things I want to ask quickly because I want to also get to antitrust. You talked to Senator Graham about resources for domestic terrorism and that you want to take a look. Do you think you will need additional authorities or do you want to look at that when you get in there?

I'm going to be chairing a hearing tomorrow with the Rules Committee on what happened at the Capitol and what we need to do to improve security? Obviously, part of it is prosecuting the perpetrators.

GARLAND: Yeah. Well, I thank you for that question. The department is probably always looking for new tools.

But the first thing we have to do before we let for new tools is figure out whether the tools that we have are sufficient and that will be part of this briefing that I want to have to determine whether the laws, which are quite capable and which were capable of the charges against McVeigh and Nichols and many other terrorists over the years, whether they are sufficient. And then I'd be interested in speaking with you and other members of

the committee about what other additions might be made. But I first have to know whether anything more is necessary.

KLOBUCHAR: Very good.

Will you commit to reinstating Attorney General Holder's 2015 guidelines requiring the A.G. to sign off on subpoenas to journalists? Something I care a lot about as daughter of a journalist.

GARLAND: Yes. So, these guidelines came out originally when I was coming for Ben Civiletti. And I had a great pleasure on working on them. These are things -- this is something that I'm deeply committed to. They've improved I would say over the years, as more concerns have arisen.


But I would expect to re-up the -- re-up those guidelines.

I don't believe that they have been rescinded in any way though. I believe they're still there.

KLOBUCHAR: No. But there was -- I couldn't get a straight answer from Attorney General Sessions or Barr. So we could talk about this more.

GARLAND: Well, I hope this is great answer for you.

KLOBUCHAR: I know you support reforms to police practices. That's correct?


KLOBUCHAR: Okay. Very good. We have, obviously, a major bill on that.

Conviction Integrity Units, something that I think is very important. You support federal grants for that?

GARLAND: Oh, yeah, yes. Look, I think that convicting someone who did not commit the crime is one of the most -- it is a risk of course of all kinds of law enforcement. But if we can determine that we've made a mistake, we need very much to correct it. And I think that grants for the purpose of supporting Conviction Integrity Units in district attorney, state's attorney's offices across the country is a very good idea.

KLOBUCHAR: We share an interest in antitrust law. And I know that you used to teach that to law students and you've handled some cases as judge, chair of the competition policy and antitrust subcommittee. We're going to be doing a lot along in this area, along with my colleague Senator Lee.

Two-thirds of U.S. industries have become more concentrated between '97 and 2012. The pandemic has actually made things even harder on small businesses. I think that we need more resources. The FTC and the antitrust division of DOJ are literally shadows of what they were when the break up of AT&T occurred and we can't expect the agencies to do what we need to do to take on the biggest companies the world has ever known on the tech side in addition to other ones with band-aids and duct tape.

Senator Grassley and I have a bill to greatly increase the funding to those divisions and agencies. Would you support that?

GARLAND: Well, I appreciate your recognizing that my first love in law school turned out -- was in fact antitrust, and I studied under one of the most famous scholars and was his research assistant, Phil Areeda (ph), and when I was in practice, I worked with Bob Pitofsky, another one of the greatest scholars and former head of -- the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, and I did practice antitrust law, including trying antitrust cases.

I also want to be in a position of saying "thank you, yes," when you asked whether we want more resources. My expectation is that is what I would say. But until I'm -- if and until I'm confirmed, I really can't evaluate what resources we might need. But I'm happy to work with you --

KLOBUCHAR: Do you commit to vigorously enforcing the antitrust laws?

GARLAND: Absolutely.

KLOBUCHAR: I believe that we need some changes to those laws to aid you in doing that. And I hope you'll be open to those. I have a bill called the Competition Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act that I hope you'll look at, changing some of the standards for mergers and for exclusionary conduct.

I also think that if anything has illustrated the need to look back at the consolidation in some of the industries, it would be the lawsuits filed by DOJ and the FTC. Example, Facebook's acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, I suggest you look at Mark Zuckerberg's email where he talked about purchasing nascent competitors.

And I think the answer to that has got to come from the Justice Department. The answer that -- the reply to that email, that this kind of exclusionary conduct is not the way capitalism works in America and we've always had a balance. We've had a balance through Republican presidents and Democratic presidents to say that we believe in the capitalist system and we have to make sure we keep rejuvenating it by allowing smaller competitors to emerge.

That's not happening right now in many areas, and I just need your commitment that you'll take this area of the law very seriously.

GARLAND: I take it very seriously and I have throughout my entire career. The Supreme Court has repeatedly referred to the antitrust law as a charter of American economic liberty and I deeply believe that.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you very much, Judge Garland.

GARLAND: Thank you.

DURBIN: Thanks, Senator Klobuchar.

This is the first test of the new regime. We're going to take a break now for ten minutes and resume at 11:20 for the much anticipated questioning of Senator Lee.

GARLAND: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us.

As we've been watching they're taking a quick break in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing led by Dick Durbin in the confirmation hearing of Joe Biden's attorney general nominee Merrick Garland.


In his opening remarks, the longtime Federal Appeals Court judge promised to take politics out of the Justice Department. After four years of obvious turmoil and chaos during the Trump administration, Garland also promised that investigating the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol would be his number one priority, telling senators that the current period that the county is in is more dangerous than what the country faced in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing.

He is expected to continue to face tough questions from Democrats and Republicans on how he plans to handle politically sensitive investigations that are currently underway in the department like involving former President Trump and President Biden's son Hunter Biden.

Let's get into this as they are taking this first 10-minute break.

CNN's chief political correspondent Dana Bash joins me right away.

Dana, just your take on what we've heard from Merrick Garland and the committee so far?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, what a different kind of process for him than we saw for President Trump's nominees and there are a lot of reasons for it. But, you know, what we heard from Republican after Republican was a suggestion that he likely has their vote, whether it is Senator Graham or Senator Cornyn. And it is in large part because of what we heard from judge Garland up front, the promise to stay away from politics, the promise for transparency, the promise for communication and his love of the Department of Justice.

And so, he knows how to speak their language, he is careful to not answer questions that he can't answer because he's a sitting judge. But goes right up to the line to kind of nod to whomever is asking the question that he gets it and he's with them.

Now, that to change and will likely change when he gets tougher questions as they move down the Republican dais in particular. I just have to note, Kate, one thing that I was -- you know, if I actually did roll my eyes but I feel like it's important too because you heard one Republican ask that the sole criterion is to promise to take politics out of the Justice Department. I'm just wondering where those Republicans were for the past four years.

KLOBUCHAR: Yeah. The line of questioning on the Republican side, exactly on the nose, Dana. On the nose.

Laura, how do you think Garland is doing so far?

Laura Coates joining us now.

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think he's doing exceptionally well. I mean, you hear him and you hear about his background, his visions, his experience as a prosecutor but somebody who knows a great deal about the Justice Department and justice in general and you say what a shame that he -- they missed out an opportunity for him to be on the highest court in the land.

But as an Attorney General nominee, he's extraordinary in being able to be as nimble as Dana as talking about knowing about the political independence of the Justice Department and improving the moral, about leading it to the line on career attorneys, about how to navigate politically sensitive things, about not wanting to address, as Senator Lindsey Graham wanted him to agree and talk about James Comey but instead relying about the policies that he believed were part and parcel to being a good justice department and why that was the focus as opposed to former officials. He talked about the ideas of the opioid crisis.

I mean, he ranged -- he hit a wide range of topics and he's well aware of the org chart, of the umbrella of things that the Department of Justice has to deal with. But to name two things in particular, Kate, one was the idea of civil rights which is been a hot-button issue. There was even questions with William Barr about whether he thought racism (ph) even consisted.

He has confronted it head on, talking about white supremacist at the heart of the insurrection as well as other things and talking about the role of the political independence and the role with the press. He understands quite well that that insurrection was about an attack on separation of power as well, and that shows you about how invested he is as a nominee of restoring my alma mater, the Department of Justice.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Elie, I would like to get your take as well, as Laura was just saying, I mean, he said directly in his opening statement, that January 6 was a heinous act that sought to disrupt a corner stone of our democracy. Everyone mostly everyone does and everyone should agree with that. Hearing that from him right out of the gate was absolutely comforting.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, it was, Kate. And also I thought it was important when I think it was Senator Whitehouse asked Judge Garland, will you investigate the January 6 riots up the chain. Will you look at who else who was involved beyond those who went into the Capitol? And Merrick Garland said he would, which is the right answer as a prosecutor.

This is -- this is a big moment for Merrick Garland but it's also a very big moment for the Justice Department, because as Dana said, we're coming off of four years where the core values of DOJ have been undermined and harmed by Donald Trump, by William Barr and by others.


And so, to hear Merrick Garland say I will not bring politics into DOJ, I'm not the president's lawyer, I'm the lawyer for the people of the United States. That should not be a big deal. Every A.G. should say that and believe in that, but it is a big deal coming off what we just finished.

BOLDUAN: And, Laura, talk to me about -- as he had said, his first priority and he said even his first briefing when he gets to the department if confirmed is going to be on the January 6th riot. How different -- how much of a difference does this make as he would --it looks like he's heading towards -- heading towards confirmation if all things continue the way they look, but how much of a difference does one person make as then would be Attorney General Merrick Garland walking into the Justice Department and this is his priority number one. What changes?

COATES: It makes a huge difference. I mean, it comes from the top down, the priorities that are at play for the line and career attorneys.

Now, of course, there are many different divisions. Most of which will not be focus on this particular issue. But for him to prioritize an attack on a branch of government shows that he is very committed to the way democracy is supposed to work, number one. And also the idea that just because there was a transition of power does not mean that we're going to -- on the one hand move forward but disregard past criminal behavior in the past.

He's aware of the limitations. He's aware of the focus. He's aware that although we as a media and we as an electorate oftentimes could move on quite quickly to things, maybe not so quickly other times, that the focus of the Justice Department is about rectifying behavior, about punishing bad conduct and about, most importantly deterrence, because deterrence is one of the main things that a prosecutor is concerned with.

We oftentimes overlook that aspect and we think about the punishment for one person but most of our laws are geared around trying to deter future conduct. So as he mentioned, the idea of the Timothy McVeigh, maybe not being a one-off in our society. He's looking at domestic terrorism not become part of our way of life, about making sure that we address the behavior, about making sure that we have peaceful transfer of power, and, of course, most importantly that we do not have a welcoming open arms approach to white supremacists, to those who are insurrectionists, to those who dare to undermine the will of the people in our elections in America.

This is a huge thing. And frankly as an alum of the Voting Rights Section in the Department of Justice, I look at this as saying this is someone who wants to perhaps restore other areas of election integrity and maybe even Section Five that was gutted infamously many years ago at this point by a Supreme Court.

BOLDUAN: So if you could all just stand by. Laura, and Dana, and Elie, stand by for me. We're going to get back to that hearing when it does pick back up there in the middle of a break.

But we do have breaking news from the Supreme Court, a major blow to former President Donald Trump. The justices handing down a decision this morning that really clears the way for a New York prosecutor to obtain Donald Trump's tax records. This has been a long time coming and now we have a decision.

Joining me right now is CNN's Jessica Schneider who's been tracking all of this.

So, Jessica, what is the high court saying here?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this is a major decision from the Supreme Court, mostly because it is the first time Trump's tax returns have been given this green light to be released. We've been waiting a long time to hear from the Supreme Court.

This is a move that Trump has fought for years. His lawyers argued to the Supreme Court last year, their argument was a sitting president was immune from complying with a criminal investigation. In that case, the Supreme Court denied that argument. They sent it back down to the lower courts which said this subpoena for Trump's tax returns was not overbroad. It was not in bad faith.

And this morning, the Supreme Court refused to take up any more arguments on the issue. And that means the subpoena for Trump's tax returns, it can move forward and we've previously heard from Trump's accounting firm, Mazars, they have said it will comply. They will hand over several years of Trump's personal and business tax returns.

Now it is important to note here, Kate, this does not mean that the tax returns will be immediately or ever become public. These are tax returns that will go to the Manhattan district attorney. They will then be used in the grand jury investigation, of course, and all grand jury investigations, all of the proceedings are kept secret.

But nonetheless, it is still a bitter loss for Donald Trump and it could mean that details from the tax returns, they could have eventually be unveiled depending on what transpires because this is an investigation into those hush money payments for women that accused Trump of having affairs at the height of 2016 campaign. It's also an investigation we've learned into potential bank and insurance fraud from the Trump Organization.


So there is a lot going on here. It is been in the works for quite sometime. We did hear from the Manhattan D.A., Cy Vance, he's been at the center of this fight. Kate, he just released a three word statement on Twitter today and it said: The work continues.

We also heard in morning from Michael Cohen, Trump's former fixer who is at the center of this as as well. He has since turned on Trump. He released a statement saying that the Supreme Court has now proclaimed that no one is above the law. Trump will for the first time have to take responsibility for his own dirty deeds.

So, Kate, this is a long time in the making. Trump has fought the release of his tax returns for years. And finally this morning, the Supreme Court stepping out of the way, allowing for the release to go right into the hands of the Manhattan district attorney. We'll see what else transpires and if the public ever sees any of the details from these tax returns -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Jessica, thank you so much for laying that out for us. This is a big moment in this.

Elie, let me bring you in on this.

It does appear, correct me if I'm wrong, that Cy Vance, the Manhattan D.A., that he's now won like every stage of this legal fight. What do you think -- what does this mean coming from the Supreme Court now?

HONIG: Yeah, Kate, this shows me that the Manhattan D.A.'s investigation is getting more serious by the day. We already know that the D.A. has been interviewing Michael Cohen. We know that the D.A. just last week hired a federal prosecutor from my old office, the Southern District of New York, who specialized in mob cases to oversee this specific investigation.

Now they're going to get the tax returns and that's going to be key piece of the puzzle because the heart of what the Manhattan D.A. is looking into is did the Trump Organization falsify the value of their assets? Did they state their assets were worth more than they actually were or less than they actually were or perhaps different depending on the circumstances? You need to bounce that off of something and test that against something and the tax returns to be the piece of the puzzle that they need.

BOLDUAN: Laura, what has been the basis of Trump's complaint all along in fighting back?

COATES: Well, the two words, witch hunt. He thought this was an entirely a political thing and that it has been overbroad, and the entire premise was congressional motivation to get his tax returns or at the prosecutorial level, that they're trying to simply embarrass him or use his tax returns as some political fodder.

Now, the idea of being overbroad is one that the Supreme Court has had to grapple with. That is the main contention about whether there was a actual reason to get that it that was linked to a criminal prosecution or one that will be tossed around like a political football.

The Supreme Court appears to be quite clear and Cy Vance and Manhattan seems to be quite clear as well in his idea to persuade the courts about this issue that it has a sound basis and a connection to a criminal prosecution. And so if that's the case, then you look at a grand jury who is going to go before to figure out if there are any charges that should come from what the tax documents might reveal. And the idea of just saying witch hunt is not going to be one that's going to absolve your responsibility in front of a grand jury.

BOLDUAN: And, look, Dana, President Trump has fought tooth and nail to keep his tax returns or any financial records from going public. Just this in and of itself is a major loss for the president, for Donald Trump, for the legacy or whatever he's trying to paint going forward?

BASH: Absolutely. I mean, he has, as you said, fought tooth and nail for many years to keep all -- almost all of his tax returns under wraps. And I think it is so fascinating that this Supreme Court decision came on the morning of the attorney general confirmation hearing. Because you have these Republicans, and Merrick Garland, all of the Republicans pushing him and Merrick Garland promising to keep politics out of the Justice Department.

You know, there are a lot of different ways that politics could seep in. But, you know, one of the unspoken explanations and definitions that these Republicans are using is, don't use the justice department to go after Donald Trump or people around him.

And Democrats are pushing a little bit. You heard Sheldon Whitehouse say that he wants the -- Judge Garland, if he gets confirmed to look up stream and pursue and he said I would pursue wherever it takes us. But it is a reminder that while you have this going on, the real action is going on at the state level.

This is about his personal business affairs and it is something that he's been -- the former president has been fighting for quite sometime. But then separate from that, you have something in Georgia that has to do with his conduct while he was president and that has to do with the phone call to pressure Georgia election officials.

So, you know, you have a lot of focus understandably on the Justice Department in general, but especially today as they're deciding whether or not to confirm President Biden's nominee.


But this is a reminder that there is a lot more going on on the state and local level.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And this has been one, I would say probably one of the most closely watched case and it got a boost moving forward today.

Good to see you, guys. Thank you very much.

So coming up, we're going to have the confirmation hearing once again of President Biden's attorney general nominee Merrick Garland set to resume in just a few minutes. They're taking just a short break and see a couple of senators still if the hearing room right now. We're going to bring you that back live when it begins. We'll take you right back to Capitol Hill on this critical day for the Biden administration and the Biden cabinet and the next attorney general of the United States.



SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): About former Attorney General Ed Levi. I've been a life-long admirer of his. He truly is an attorney general in the grand tradition of that office. And he's someone my family has known in one way or another for a long time.

My late father worked for him as -- well, he was running the civil division during Ed Levi's time as attorney general, and I've had close personal and professional interactions with both his son David Levi, a former judge and later law school dean, and with Ed Levi's grandson, David's son Will who served with me as my chief counsel who worked on this committee for several years and later served as chief of staff to Attorney General Barr.

So a big fan of that family and I'm glad that he's someone that you look up to.

I want to talk about a few issues today. Let's talk first for a moment about the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. This is going back 15 years or so, but in a case called Parker versus District of Columbia, a case that later became known as District of Columbia versus Heller, as I recall, you voted for rehearing en banc, with respect.