WASHINGTON – As Judge Merrick Garland prepares to take over the Department of Justice, officials are already beginning to reverse Trump-era policies denounced by Democrats and restore what employees have long described as a less charged environment in which they no longer fear retaliation from the president or public criticism from the attorney general. .
Judge Garland, whose appointment as attorney general is expected to be confirmed in the coming days with bipartisan support, confirmed in his letter Confirmation session His experience as a former public prosecutor and his commitment to protecting the constituency from partisan influence. His remarks gave many Justice Ministry officials the impression that he would be a fair leader that he trusted and respected.
But the judge’s pledge to be fair and apolitical will be immediately tested through politically thorny investigations, and efforts to reverse Trump-era measures and the Biden administration’s goals to energize civil rights and domestic counterterrorism initiatives, including Extended investigation into the Capitol attack By a pro-Trump rally on January 6.
Monty Wilkinson, the acting attorney general and professional law enforcement official, quickly began reversing the Trump administration’s signature initiatives last month, including some that Republicans view with skepticism. He rescinded prosecutors’ controversial directives on investigations into voter fraud and harsh penalties, as well as the “zero tolerance” policy for illegal entry into the United States from Mexico, which separated thousands of children from their families.
Since President Biden took office on Jan.20, the ministry has done too I informed the Supreme Court That that would be It no longer challenges the Affordable Care ActUnder the Trump administration, disavow its position. He. She Withdraw the lawsuit Which accused Yale of discriminating against Asian and white applicants, which is seen as part of a broader effort to deconstruct affirmative action. Withdrawing support for A lawsuit seeks to ban transgender students From participating in sports for girls in high school.
Other moves by Wilkinson helped raise the morale of employees who saw President Donald J Trump and Attorney General William B. Bar is exercising the Justice Department for political gain, according to current and former employees. In particular, Mr. Wilkinson has asked the Trump-appointed attorney general to stay to oversee the investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. John H. Durham, the special counsel, was permitted to continue his investigation of the Russian investigation. Ministry officials viewed the decisions as an indication that facts, not political interests, would determine the course.
Although Democrats have said they view the moves as a significant reset, more difficult work lies ahead. Senator Richard J. DurbinAn Illinois Democrat and the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee accused former department leaders during Judge Garland’s confirmation hearing of undermining public confidence in the department as they sought to advance Mr. Trump’s personal and political interests. Mr. Durbin called on the next Attorney General to restore confidence in the rule of law.
Despite support from many Republicans on the committee, which voted 15 to 7 to present Mr. Garland’s nomination, at least one objected to his speeding up of confirmation, Mr. Durbin said Wednesday. “It might take days, and maybe even next week, before he can take office,” Mr. Durbin said in a speech to the Senate.
Like any prosecutor, Judge Garland will face headwinds once he takes charge of criminal investigations of political dimensions. “The integrity and wisdom of decision-making throughout the department will remain in question,” said Kenneth Starr, a former whitewater special prosecutor, in Senate testimony supporting the judge’s nomination.
Judge Garland told the commission that the first briefing he would get from his aides would be about the attack on the Capitol, which he described as “the most heinous attack on democratic processes” he had seen and an indication that he was Internal extremism It was a bigger problem now than it was when he investigated the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
Leading this investigation is in flux. The head of the investigation into the assault on the Capitol, Michael R. Sherwin, from his position as the attorney general of the United States in Washington, may give up overseeing the case in the coming weeks, according to a memo he wrote to the office.
This investigation is expected to be politically suspicious. She’s already headed towards Mr.Trump’s inner circle, with the FBI checking Communications between extremists and his ally Roger J Stone Jr.. As the ministry prioritizes its fight against internal extremism while placing the Capitol issue at the heart of its work, it will face unavoidable questions about Links between extremists and the Republican Party.
Judge Garland’s record of domestic counterterrorism – which includes not only the Oklahoma City case but also his oversight of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing And the The Unabomber Case It can help allay concerns about politicization in those investigations, said Matthew Schneider, partner at Honigman, the law firm and former US attorney in Michigan.
When Mr. Schneider’s office was charged Members of a violent group of white supremacists at Plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer From Michigan, a Democrat who quarreled with Mr.Trump, the political rift between the two overshadowed his announcement, he said.
Two other inquiries – the federal investigation into Hunter Biden’s tax fraud and the Durham investigation of any potential wrongdoing by Obama-era officials who opened the investigation in Russia – are sure to face charges of political influence, regardless of their outcome.
Department of Justice employees expressed hope that Judge Garland’s reputation for fairness and impartiality would help mitigate some of these charges. It also marks a departure in his temperament and leadership from Mr. Bar’s occasional frankness, which current and former employees had speculated might help quell controversy.
“He has the reputation we need as the attorney general right now,” said Kenneth L. Weinstein, a former official in the Department of Justice under President George W. Bush, of Judge Garland. “He is recognized as a thoughtful person, not as a political theorist or advocate. He understands what it means to be the country’s attorney general, not the president. There will not be a day when you open the newspaper and see that he has abused his power to protect the president.”
Current and former employees said Mr. Barr’s approach to politically charged prosecution cases was also a model to be avoided. He broke the rules to allow prosecutors to investigate fraud before the election was approved, raising concerns that the results could not be trusted. He ordered them to lower the sentencing recommendation to Mister Stone, who was so He was convicted of seven felonies But at a later time Mr. Trump pardoned. He sought to drop a case against Mr. Trump’s former national security advisor Michael T. Flynn, who pleaded guilty To lie to the investigators. Mr. Barr has also used a manuscript review process aimed at keeping confidential information private Stephanie Winston Walkoff sued, Author of a gossip book about working for former first lady Melania Trump.
Under Mr. Wilkinson, the circuit withdrew the legal case against Mrs. Woolcove and returned to business through the established chains of command.
Justice Garland is also expected to try to revive the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which under Trump saw a fundamental shift in its priorities. Religious freedoms were given priority To act to protect LGBTQ rights. Department all except I stopped using the approval decrees As a tool to reform police stations with records of racial discrimination and other violations. Mr. Barr sought The civil rights law ban was imposed more strictly On racial discrimination, and accused the Black Lives Matter movement of Use of blacks as supports For a radical political agenda.
Late last year, the ministry banned any training or programming for diversity and inclusion to comply with it Trump’s executive order banning such training Implicit bias, they said, is not present. This directive has been canceled.
An employee of the Ministry of Justice affiliated with the Department of Justice’s Gender Equality Network, an employee-run advocacy organization that promotes fair treatment of department workers, said Judge Garland’s positions so far show divergence, and his commitment to diversity and inclusion appears sincere.
But Republicans have already warned against embracing progressive priorities, insisting that religious freedom should not lose priority and that approval decisions should not be used widely. Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, has indicated that he will not support Kristin Clark, Mr. Biden’s candidate to run the Civil Rights Division.
But Judge Garland made it clear in his hearing that he supports reversing the civil rights version under the Trump administration, rooting his position in the ministry’s assets in fighting the Ku Klux Klan and upholding civil rights law to protect the rights of “the most vulnerable. Members of our community”.
Judge Garland said that this task “remains urgent because we do not have equal justice”. “Communities of color and other minorities continue to face discrimination in housing, education, employment and the criminal justice system.”