On Monday, questioning attorney general nominee Merrick Garland, Hawley declared that a months-long increase in crime has been accompanied by “increasing calls by some activists, including members of the United States Congress, to ‘defund the police.’ ” Hawley, informing Garland that such calls send “the wrong message to law enforcement” and make them feel “under siege,” demanded Garland “tell me your position on defunding the police.”
Hawley, you’ll recall, is the guy who raised a fist of solidarity to the mob before the Capitol attack, and the guy whose home-state Kansas City Star charged that he “has blood on his hands in [the] Capitol coup attempt.”
Garland, who prosecuted the Oklahoma City bombing perpetrators before becoming a federal judge, fixed a steady gaze on Hawley. “As you no doubt know, President Biden has said he does not support defunding the police, and neither do I,” he said. “We saw how difficult the lives of police officers were in the body-cam videos we saw when they were defending the Capitol.”
But Hawley didn’t want to talk about the violence against police generated by his own attempt to overturn the election. He insisted that Garland talk about “assaults on federal property in places other than Washington” — specifically, during racial-justice protests — and whether those qualify as “domestic terrorism.”
Garland was not distracted by the seditionist’s sleight of hand. He explained that using violence “to disrupt democratic processes” (as occurred in the Capitol) is domestic terrorism, while attacking a courthouse at night (as occurred in Portland) is not. “Both are criminal, but one is a core attack on our democratic institutions.”
It was a clear message to the violent white supremacists and other domestic terrorists who thrived during the Trump years, most visibly in their attack on the Capitol last month: There’s a new sheriff in town. Garland vowed that domestic terrorism “will be my first priority” as attorney general and promised to “do everything in the power of the Justice Department” to stop it.
For four years, President Donald Trump railed about “law and order” while breaking the former and undermining the latter. In Garland, we see a restoration of actual law and order. Timothy McVeigh’s prosecutor has the backing of groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police, but he’s also determined to fight discrimination, as he explained during Monday’s hearing.
“I come from a family,” Garland said, his voice breaking, “where my grandparents fled antisemitism and persecution. The country took us in — and protected us.” With difficulty, he continued: “And I feel an obligation to the country to pay back, and this is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back.”
Republicans shamefully denied Garland a hearing for nearly a year after President Barack Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court in 2016. It is testimony to the resilience of both Garland and the sorely tested institutions of government that he’s now poised to become the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) signaled their support on Monday.
But the lineup of questioners facing Garland made it clear how fragile the restoration of the democratic order is. On the Judiciary Committee sit three senators who supported overturning the election, and others vying to win over Trump supporters for 2024 presidential runs.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who last week fled to the Ritz Carlton in Cancún while his constituents suffered without heat and water, took another trip Monday — back in time. He quizzed Garland about Operation Fast and Furious (2009), the Internal Revenue Service “targeting” of tea-party groups (2010) and a charge that the Justice Department was “weaponizing oppo research from Hillary Clinton’s campaign” (2016).
“Are you familiar with the Steele Dossier?” inquired Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.).
Graham pronounced it “stunning” that Garland declined to denounce former FBI director James Comey.
Grassley inquired about Hunter Biden.
And Hawley thought it necessary to ask the former chief judge on the second highest court in the land if he would “resist calls to politicize the Department of Justice.”
Garland replied calmly that, after 24 years on the bench, “I’ve grown pretty immune to any kind of pressure other than the pressure to do the right thing given the facts and the law.”
Maybe Senate Republicans did Garland a favor when they robbed this good man of a Supreme Court seat, for now he’s getting a more important assignment: defending democracy itself from Hawley, Cruz and mob rule.