Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee will confront Attorney General Merrick B. Garland at an oversight hearing Wednesday as they move forward with an impeachment investigation of President Joe Biden that involves accusations of lenient Justice Department treatment for the president’s son.
The hearing will offer Justice Department critics a rare chance to question the attorney general face-to-face and press him on a range of high-profile topics, including the two federal criminal cases against former President Donald Trump and the performance of the special counsel investigating Hunter Biden.
The Justice Department’s jurisdiction also cuts across a broad swath of contentious issues, and Garland could find himself fielding policy questions on topics such as gun violence and mass shootings, domestic terrorism, policing issues, immigration, efforts to combat fentanyl and the reauthorization of a contentious surveillance authority known as Section 702 that expires at the end of this year.
House Republicans have taken a combative and pugnacious approach to the Justice Department this Congress and have sought to cast certain agency actions as bias against conservatives.
Garland, a longtime circuit judge and one-time nominee for the Supreme Court, has aimed to stay above the fray of political debate and avoid heated rhetoric in his appearances before Congress.
House GOP appropriators are seeking to cut discretionary funding for the Justice Department and have proposed several policy riders that are sure to get opposition from Democrats, such as language that would prevent the FBI from using construction money to build a new headquarters.
The House Judiciary Committee is one of three panels involved in the impeachment inquiry announced last week by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who launched the probe under pressure from hard-right conservatives.
Republicans pointed to the Justice Department’s treatment of Hunter Biden in opening the impeachment inquiry, saying there’s an appearance that Biden’s family was offered special treatment by the president’s own administration.
Hunter Biden had agreed to plead guilty to two charges of misdemeanor tax evasion and enter a pretrial diversion agreement on a firearm possession charge — an agreement that outraged Republicans who framed it as a “sweetheart” deal.
But the plea deal in the case fell apart earlier this year, and Hunter Biden last week was indicted by a federal grand jury on firearm-related charges.
The investigation is being overseen by David Weiss, a Trump appointee who received special counsel status from Garland, a Biden appointee.
There is no public evidence that President Biden interfered with the direction of the investigation.
The oversight hearing on Wednesday is expected to highlight the partisan disagreements on the Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican who sits on the committee, called the event a “long overdue and much-anticipated hearing.”
“We truly believe he’s weaponized the department,” Johnson said.
Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey Republican who also sits on the panel, said he plans to ask the attorney general about the culture within the Justice Department and the FBI.
“We can go specific date by date and action by action, but the reality is it’s an actual culture, I believe, of corruption that really has overwhelmed the entire office,” he said in an interview Monday.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., said he thinks Democrats will push back on any false representations that Republicans make.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said the Justice Department has one of the largest jurisdictional reaches of any Cabinet-level position and that she’ll be looking at the department’s responsibilities.
“What is the present status of efforts on fighting against gun violence, gun trafficking? I’ll be interested in where we are on domestic violence, domestic terrorism and hate crimes, which are proliferating,” she said. “Human trafficking and sex trafficking will be an issue that I’ll be asking about, and then certainly I will move into the whole issue of voting rights.”
Garland’s appearance before the panel comes as the Justice Department remains involved in multiple high-stakes criminal cases that are on track to extend into the 2024 presidential primary season.
Special counsel John L. “Jack” Smith is prosecuting Trump, who polls show remains the front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, in two separate criminal cases: One over Trump’s push to overturn his loss in the 2020 election and a second in Florida tied to his handling of classified documents after he left the White House.