Merrick Garland received bipartisan praise in the second day of Senate hearings on his nomination to be attorney general, including from former independent counsel Ken Starr who spent years investigating Democrat President Bill Clinton.
Starr, who also helped defend President Donald Trump in his first impeachment trial, took Garland’s Senate confirmation as a given. He and another witness called by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday focused instead on urging that Garland preserve some Justice Department policies pursued under Trump, including “religious freedom” protections and ending the use of consent decrees to force reforms on police departments.
Garland has an “extraordinary array of credentials,” Starr said of President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Justice Department. The appeals court judge’s confirmation appears assured after a number of Republicans on the Senate panel — including Senators Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, and Thom Tillis — indicated they’ll vote for him.
Testifying on Monday, Garland pledged that he will make prosecutorial decisions independently. Starr urged that he deliver on that promise.
“The attorney general must be allowed to make the pivotally important decisions unimpeded especially with respect to the most sensitive work of the department, that of the criminal laws,” said Starr, who was appointed as an independent counsel to investigate Clinton, which ultimately led to the Democratic president’s impeachment and acquittal.
Starr also joined Republicans on the committee in urging that Garland not interfere in the continuing investigation by Special Counsel John Durham, who was appointed by former Attorney General William Barr to look into the origins of the investigation into Trump’s dealings with Russia. Garland said Monday that “I don’t have any reason to think that he should not remain in place” but resisted making an absolute pledge.
Garland expressed support Monday for reversing key policies of the Trump administration, including returning to the Obama administration’s use of consent decrees with police departments.
A second Republican witness, Josh Blackman, a law professor at the South Texas College of Law, questioned the use of consent decrees as well as using “guidance documents” on Justice Department policies in place of formal rule-making.
Wade Henderson, interim president and chief executive officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said support for Garland comes with expectations. The department should suspend use of the federal death penalty, focus on combating white supremacy and hate violence and support voting rights, Henderson said.
“President Biden’s selection of him for this position is an inspired choice,” Henderson said. “If the issue is restoring the integrity and independence of DOJ, and it is, then Judge Garland is particularly well-chosen.”
The Judiciary panel has scheduled a vote on Garland for Monday, and committee Chairman Dick Durbin has said the full Senate may act next week.
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