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Attorney general to face plenty of controversy at oversight hearing

Merrick B. Garland expected to face questions on the Mar-a-Lago search and a wide swath of DOJ actions

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland when he testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the Department of Justice in October 2021.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland when he testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the Department of Justice in October 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland returns to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday for the first time in more than a year, where senators will have the chance to confront him about Justice Department actions on a wide range of high-profile issues.

The oversight hearing comes months after the FBI searched Donald Trump’s property in Florida as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into the Republican former president, who is now a current presidential candidate for 2024.

The Wednesday hearing will also be the first time Garland appears before the committee since he launched special counsel investigations into records marked as classified that were found at properties of Trump and President Joe Biden.

The DOJ’s purview cuts across a broad swath of contentious issues: Gun violence and mass shootings, domestic terrorism, policing issues, immigration, antitrust enforcement against Google and in other industries, the opioid epidemic including fentanyl, marijuana enforcement, cryptocurrency issues including charges against former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, cybersecurity, national security, prosecutions of rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and more.

And on Tuesday, Garland and other officials in the Biden administration urged Congress to reauthorize a key surveillance law before it expires at the end of the year.

The panel includes vocal critics of Garland on Justice Department actions related to an investigation of Biden’s son, Hunter, as well as parents at local school board meetings. That includes Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and other Republicans who have suggested Garland should be impeached.

Cruz previously called the search of Mar-a-Lago an abuse of power and alleged the Biden administration has “fully weaponized” the Justice Department and the FBI. He declined to specify what he might ask the attorney general about at the oversight hearing.

“Quite a lot of thoughts, and you can find out on Wednesday,” Cruz said on Monday.

The Mar-a-Lago search sent shockwaves through the political world last year and unleashed a torrent of criticism from Republicans. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who sits on the Senate committee, said on social media that the search was an “unprecedented assault on democratic norms and the rule of law.”

More than three months after the search, Trump announced he would run for president again, prompting Garland to appoint Jack Smith as special counsel to oversee two criminal investigations: One into efforts to interfere with the transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election and the other into the handling of materials marked as classified that were found at Trump’s property.

Garland could also face questions about the separate special counsel investigation that he announced in January after classified records were found at Biden’s residence in Wilmington, Del., and the Penn Biden Center in Washington.

On Tuesday, a select group of lawmakers will hear from administration officials regarding the classified materials, according to Bloomberg and other media reports.

Access to the documents has been a point of contention. Sen. Mark Warner, in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” that aired in late January, said that there’s a need for intelligence oversight.

“While the director of national intelligence had been willing to brief us earlier, now that you’ve got the special counsel, the notion that we’re going to be left in limbo — and we can’t do our job — that just cannot stand,” said Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in the interview.

Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said he will likely explore the role of federal law enforcement in combating gun violence in Wilmington, Del., at Wednesday’s oversight hearing.

“I think there’s good news to talk about, but I also think that provides some insights into what a model could be for how to successfully combat gun violence,” Coons said.

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he expects Garland to be forthcoming.

“I have questions about prosecutorial policy in certain areas, about what more can be done to assist local and state police with more effective investigations, combating domestic violence, gun safety,” Blumenthal said.