Merrick Garland's attorney general confirmation hearing: Day 1

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 12:09 p.m. ET, February 24, 2021
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11:39 a.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Garland lays out how he plans to investigate the Capitol riot

From CNN's From Christina Carrega

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island, asked Merrick Garland if he'd be willing "to look upstream" from the Jan. 6 rioters and investigate the "funders, organizers, leaders or aiders and abetters" of the Capitol attack.

Garland said that while the investigation has begun with "the people on the ground," as attorney general he will pursue any and all leads.

Here's how Garland laid out the investigation:

"We begin with the people on the ground and we work our way up to those who are involved and further involved and we will pursue these leads wherever they take us. That is the job of a prosecution."

Answering a question from California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Garland also said he plans to get a briefing "on the progress of this investigation" and give the career prosecutors "who are working on this matter 24/7, all the resources they could possibly require to do this."

To date, more than 230 men and women have been charged in connection to the attack that left five people dead, and several others, including law enforcement officers, injured. The riot was an attempt to stop the Senate from counting the electoral votes that confirmed President Biden's win.

Watch:

11:14 a.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Garland says he has not discussed the Hunter Biden investigation with the President

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

Demetrius Freeman/Pool/AFP/Getty Images
Demetrius Freeman/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

At his Senate confirmation hearing, Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland told GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley that he had not discussed the federal investigation into Hunter Biden with President Biden.

“The President made abundantly clear in every public statement before and after my nomination that decisions about investigations and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department. That was the reason that I was willing to take on this job,” he told lawmakers on Monday.

Some background: Federal investigators in Delaware have been examining multiple financial issues involving the younger Biden, including whether he violated tax and money laundering laws in business dealings in foreign countries, principally China, two people briefed on the probe told CNN in December.

The President has made a point of distancing himself from the decision-making at the Justice Department, and as questions about his son swirled earlier this winter, he pledged to install independent leaders at the agency.

These questions were expected at today's hearing as GOP senators had already signaled that they would try to draw out Garland on how he'll handle his full plate of political problems.

CNN's Evan Perez and Pamela Brown contributed reporting to this post.

Watch:

10:43 a.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Biden's attorney general nominee calls Trump-era policy that separated migrant families “shameful”

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez

Attorney general nominee, Merrick Garland, called the controversial Trump-era policy that led to the separation of thousands of families “shameful” during his confirmation hearing Monday. 

“I think that the policy was shameful. I can’t imagine anything worse than tearing parents from their children. And we will provide all the cooperation that we possibly can,” Garland said in a line of questioning from Senate Judiciary Chair and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.

The Justice Department played a critical role in the policy, known as “zero tolerance.” A recent government watchdog report found that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions knew early on migrant families would be separated when the Trump administration implemented the "zero tolerance" policy and still proceeded to push for the policy. 

Former President Trump ended the policy in June 2018 after mounting criticism, but last month, the Justice Department moved to rescind it altogether.

10:37 a.m. ET, February 22, 2021

If confirmed, Garland says he will supervise the prosecution of rioters who stormed the US Capitol

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

In his opening remarks at his Senate confirmation hearing, President Biden's Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland said he would supervise the prosecution of the White supremacists and others who stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6.

“If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of White supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a corner stone of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.

He added that it is critical work that is part of the broad scope of the Department of Justice’s responsibilities

“The attorney general takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I am mindful of the tremendous responsibility that comes with this role," Garland said.

More on today's hearing: Garland is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, the first day of a two-day hearing where he's expected to face pointed questions from senators about politically charged investigations and the prosecution of the Jan. 6 riot.

CNN's Jeremy Herb contributed reporting to this post.

Watch:

10:00 a.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Senate Judiciary Chair would want Garland's DOJ to focus on Capitol riot probe, not Trump

From CNN's Aaron Pellish

Carlos Barria/Pool/Getty Images
Carlos Barria/Pool/Getty Images

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin told reporters he thinks Judge Merrick Garland’s first priority as attorney general should be the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. 

In response to a question about the possibility of Garland investigating former President Trump, Durbin said “I think that will not be his priority.”

“There are many people who want him to engage in a political agenda,” Durbin said. “I think that will not be his priority. His priority is first, the investigation in the January 6th mob invasion of this Capitol.”

During is opening statement during Garland's confirmation hearing, Durbin also stressed that the nominee would be tasked with investigating and prosecuting individuals responsible for the Capitol attack to "prevent future attacks driven by hate, inflammatory words, and bizarre conspiracy theories."

9:50 a.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Garland will likely face questions about race and the criminal justice system

From CNN's David Shortell and Christina Carrega

Merrick Garland will likely face questions from both sides of the aisle on how he would steer the Justice Department amid policy debates over race and the criminal justice system, which came to the fore after a summer of mass protests spurred by the police killings of Black men and women.

The Republican aide said that senators were planning to press Garland on statements on the topic made by two women nominated to senior positions at the department alongside him that have generated controversy.

The aide pointed to the role that Biden's nominee to head the Justice Department's civil rights division, Kristen Clarke, played as a student in organizing a 1994 Harvard University event featuring an antisemitic professor.

Clarke has since said she regrets hosting the event. Vanita Gupta, nominated for the number three position at the department, has also drawn blowback from Republicans for saying that every institution in the US is "suffering from structural racism."

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union is pressing Garland from the left, writing in a letter released Thursday that he should make clear at his confirmation hearing that he will "adopt policies to build a more racially just criminal legal system" as attorney general.

A number of policies put in place by his Republican predecessors, like a 2018 Sessions memo that limited the use of court-ordered agreements with local police departments accused of civil rights violations, could soon be reversed under Garland.

Dozens of lawmakers led by Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley have also urged Garland to end the use of the federal death penalty after an execution spree in the final days of the Trump administration that followed a policy change under Barr.

9:50 a.m. ET, February 22, 2021

Justice Committee chair calls Garland's nomination "one of the most critical" in DOJ history

Carlos Barria/Pool/Getty Images
Carlos Barria/Pool/Getty Images

Judiciary Committee Chair and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin called Merrick Garland's nomination for attorney general "one of the most critical" in the Justice Department's history.

"There have been few moments in history where the role of Attorney General — and the occupant of that post — have mattered more," Durbin said in his opening statement.

 "Judge Garland, should you be confirmed — and I have every confidence that you will be — you will oversee a Justice Department in an existential moment. After four tumultuous years of intrigue, controversy, and brute political forces, the future course of the Department is clearly in transition," he continued.

Durbin slammed former Attorney General William Barr, saying that under during the Trump administration "the Justice Department became an arm of the White House."

"The United States Department of Justice became the Trump Department of Justice. After all, General Barr had stated clearly that he believed the Attorney General to be the President’s lawyer, not the nation’s," Durbin said.

The Democrat said he was confident Garland could transform the department and meet the challenges of the moment.

"Judge Garland, we are confident that you can rebuild the Department’s once hallowed halls. That you can restore the faith of the American people in the rule of law. And that you can deliver equal justice for all," Durbin said. 

"I am confident, given this prior experience, that you are up to the task that the Department now faces in the wake of January 6th. In fact, I can think of no one better suited," the senator added in closing. 

Watch:

9:43 a.m. ET, February 22, 2021

The Senate confirmation hearing just began

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

Carlos Barria/Pool/Getty Images
Carlos Barria/Pool/Getty Images

The Senate confirmation hearing for President Biden's nominee to lead the Justice Department just began.

While Merrick Garland is expected to face pointed questions over multiple thorny issues awaiting him at the Justice Department, his selection has been praised by both Democrats and Republicans leading up to the hearing.

Five years ago, Garland became the poster child for the Republican blockade of an open Supreme Court seat in the final year of President Barack Obama's term when Senate Republicans denied even a hearing to the Supreme Court nominee.

The GOP opposition to Garland in 2016, of course, had nothing to do with Garland himself, as Republicans came out against confirming Obama's Supreme Court nominee before Garland was even named.

Read Garland's full opening statement here.

9:31 a.m. ET, February 22, 2021

These are some of the challenges Biden's attorney general nominee will face if confirmed

From CNN's David Shortell and Christina Carrega

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Merrick Garland, whose 2016 nomination to the Supreme Court was scuttled by Senate Republicans, has said he wouldn't have accepted the attorney general nomination without assurances from President Biden about his independence.

Dissent among rank-and-file prosecutors reached a fever pitch at the Justice Department under the last Senate-confirmed attorney general, William Barr, who cast a polarizing figure after several news-making decisions that impacted the friends and political future of then-President Trump.

In unusual and striking number, current and former officials defected publicly from Barr as he made legal moves that benefited GOP operative Roger Stone and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and launched a provocative critique of career employees in a September speech.

Just weeks after a mob descended on the Capitol building and temporarily shut down the certification of Biden's electoral win, the massive investigation into the insurrection may present the most pressing matter for Garland if he makes it through a Senate vote.

More than 200 men and women have been arrested so far in the investigation, which officials said was the department's largest since the one that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and decisions about whether to bring significant charges like sedition in some of the cases will vex Garland in his early days at the agency.