WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick Garland offered a fiery defense of the Justice Department’s investigation of Hunter Biden on Wednesday, telling a House committee he was “not Congress’s prosecutor” — and would not reveal details of the inquiry no matter how much pressure lawmakers applied.
During a grueling and combative hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Garland repeatedly refused to answer questions about internal deliberations or offer explanations for decision-making in the investigation, or the two federal indictments of former President Donald Trump.
House Republicans view Garland as a linchpin as they seek to bolster an impeachment inquiry that is grounded, thus far, in inconclusive evidence that President Biden profited from his son’s business dealings. They have suggested he also might face impeachment, or contempt charges, for not fully answering their questions or providing access to documents and witnesses they have demanded.
Many of the claims and insinuations leveled against Garland by Republicans — that he is part of a coordinated Democratic effort to shield the Bidens and persecute Trump — were not supported by fact. And much of the specific evidence presented, particularly the testimony of an investigator who questioned key decisions in the Biden investigation, was given without context or acknowledgment of contradictory information.
Garland, a former federal appellate judge known for his circumspect and soft-spoken demeanor, took a more aggressive approach than during past hearings. Countering the claims, he denounced escalating threats against prosecutors, including special counsel Jack Smith, and FBI agents by Trump supporters, which have prompted significant increases in security.
“Singling out individual career public servants who are just doing their jobs is dangerous — particularly at a time of increased threats to the safety of public servants and their families,” said Garland, who later reacted angrily when a Republican committee member called out a career prosecutor by name.
“We will not be intimidated,” he added. “We will do our jobs free from outside influence. And we will not back down from defending our democracy.”
It was Garland’s first appearance before the committee since Smith brought two criminal indictments against Trump and a plea deal for Hunter Biden collapsed over the summer.
Garland’s testimony took place at what had been, in years past, a routine oversight hearing that would typically center on policy, crime, law enforcement initiative, and civil rights — issues that were largely jettisoned for attacks by Republicans and counterattacks by Democrats.
Republican committee members had signaled that they would grill Garland about his role in the later stages of a five-year investigation into Hunter Biden. It appeared to be nearing an end this summer until it imploded in July over the terms of the plea deal between Biden and the US attorney for Delaware, David C. Weiss.
Republicans focused on a claim by a former IRS investigator, Gary Shapley, who said Weiss had suggested that he was being blocked from fully investigating the case of Biden’s taxes by being denied the power to independently pursue charges in jurisdictions outside Delaware. (Weiss and several other investigators in the case have rejected the claim.)
On Wednesday, they homed in on one of the biggest unexplained questions: Why Weiss requested to be appointed special counsel in August. Garland told a Senate committee this year that as the US attorney in Delaware, Weiss had all the authority he required — and had never asked for a change in status.
“Did you ask him what had changed, that made him now need to be made a special counsel?” asked Representative Dan Bishop, Republican of North Carolina.
In response, Garland cited a promise he had made to senators during his confirmation in 2021 — that he would not interfere with the work of Weiss to avoid any appearance that he was influencing an investigation into his boss’s son.
“I have kept that promise,” he said. “The way to not interfere is to not investigate an investigation.”
The theory that Joe Biden intervened to protect his son, widely trumpeted by House Republicans and amplified by conservative news media, is a prime motivator behind the impeachment inquiry begun by Speaker Kevin McCarthy under pressure from the right flank of his party.
Republicans see Garland as a critical link, even as he has taken steps to insulate himself from the case, including by reappointing Weiss, a Trump appointee. Similarly, officials say, he has virtually cut off communications with the White House since the department began investigating Trump.
“As the president himself has said, and I reaffirm here today: I am not the president’s lawyer,” he said in his opening statement.
Over the past week, Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, chair of the Judiciary Committee, has increased the pace and scope of his demand for access to documents and officials, including Weiss and his deputies, claiming they are fundamentally necessary for his committee to fulfill its oversight function.
Several times Garland was asked about his role in the two federal indictments of Trump — and whether he had personally approved it at the request of President Biden, as Trump has claimed without providing evidence.
“No one has told me to indict,” he said. “And in this case, the decision to indict was made by the special counsel.”