Updated September 20, 2023 at 1:49 PM ET

Attorney General Merrick Garland is nearing hour four of the House Judiciary Committee hearing where Republicans have grilled him largely over the agency's investigation into Hunter Biden.

The hearing is meant to be part of the committee's standard oversight duties, but the morning's meeting between the U.S.'s top prosecutor and the panel's Republican members has been heated.

As expected, Garland has been badgered by Republican members with questions and accusations of political bias and interfering in investigations on behalf of the Biden family.

Congressional Republicans have long criticized Garland and his department for exactly that — even floating the idea of opening an impeachment inquiry into Garland.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan set the tone at the start of the hearing saying: "The fix is in. Even with the face-saving indictment last week of Hunter Biden, everyone knows the fix is in."

Jordan and other GOP lawmakers called Garland out for a perceived "two-tiered" system of justice when it came to investigating Republicans and Democrats.

That's due to the investigations into President Joe Biden's handling of classified material, of his surviving son, Hunter Biden and of former President Donald Trump.

Garland defended his agency and the independent work of special counsels David Weiss, who is investigating Hunter Biden, and Jack Smith, the lead prosecutor in federal cases against former President Donald Trump.

In his prepared statement to the committee, Garland said: "There is not one set of laws for the powerful and another for the powerless; one for the rich, another for the poor; one for Democrats, another for Republicans; or different rules, depending upon one's race or ethnicity or religion."

He continued, "As the President himself has said, and I reaffirm here today: I am not the President's lawyer. I will also add that I am not Congress's prosecutor."

Garland became emotional as he spoke personally about why he has spent his professional career in law as a prosecutor, a judge and now as the nation's top law enforcement officer. His grandmother fled religious persecution in Eastern Europe and made it to the U.S., where she was protected under the nation's laws. Other family members were not as lucky and were killed in the Holocaust, he said.

"Repaying this country for the debt my family owes for our very lives has been the focus of my entire professional life," Garland said with his voice cracking.

His family's background came up later in the hearing when Garland became visibly angry in an exchange with Republican New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew. The congressman questioned Garland over a now-withdrawn memo from the FBI's Richmond office targeting extremism in Catholic churches.

Van Drew pressed Garland and repeatedly asked, "Do you agree that traditional Catholics are violent extremists?"

Garland responded, raising his voice, "The idea that someone with my family background would discriminate against any religion is so outrageous, so absurd!"

Hunter Biden, as expected, has been the big focus

The younger Biden has been the subject of an investigation led by special counsel Weiss since 2019.

His special counsel designation came after a plea deal between Biden and federal prosecutors fell apart. As part of the plea deal, Biden would have avoided prosecution on a felony firearm offense.

But earlier this month, Biden was indicted on felony gun charges.

As the investigation was ongoing, two IRS agents came forward and accused the DOJ publicly of giving Biden preferential treatment and slow-walking the investigation.

This added fuel to Republicans' assertion that the DOJ is protecting the Biden family from criminal prosecution.

At the hearing, Garland repeatedly denied interfering in the ongoing Biden probe and was never instructed to charge Trump with several federal crimes.

Garland avoided speaking at length about Weiss and the still-open investigation. He said said, several times, that he would rather have Weiss speak on the investigation.

As part of the committee's inquiry into this investigation, the panel plans to bring Weiss in for questioning later this fall.

As Jordan said in an interview with the Washington Examiner this week, a major focus for the committee this morning will be also be on special counsel Jack Smith, who has led the federal investigation into Trump.

Jordan and other Republican lawmakers have sided with Trump in his claims that he did nothing wrong and that Smith and the DOJ are interfering in the 2024 election by prosecuting the former president.

Democrats largely offered Garland an opportunity to defend the agency and to speak of the work the DOJ has done outside of Biden and Trump indictments.

Committee Ranking Member Rep. Jerry Nadler said instead of focusing on the issues facing the nation, "House Republicans will use their time today to talk about long-discredited conspiracy theories and Hunter Biden's laptop. And they will do it because they care more about Donald Trump than they do about their own constituents."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

300x250 Ad

300x250 Ad

Support quality journalism, like the story above, with your gift right now.