President Biden is set to rehabilitate the Department of Justice, which the Trump years left ravaged and demoralized. And he’s taken an important first step within the course of by nominating Merrick Garland for legal professional normal. Garland is predicted to win fast affirmation. The Senate hearings start Monday; he could also be on the helm of the division as quickly as the top of subsequent week.
Garland’s integrity, sound judgment and dedication to the rule of regulation make him the right tonic for the DOJ’s battered popularity, however sarcastically, his strengths could show to be a combined blessing for the president who nominated him.
With Garland, Biden has drawn a pointed distinction with Trump, whose mannequin of an ideal legal professional normal was captured in his query “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”, referring to the infamously corrupt fixer identified for his vicious advocacy on behalf of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
When Biden introduced his decide in the course of the transition — on the day after Jan. 6 — he pointedly addressed Garland: “You are not the president’s or the vice president’s lawyer. Your loyalty is not to me. It’s to the law, the Constitution, the people of this nation.”
And so it likely might be with Garland. Now a decide on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, he served as an assistant United States legal professional and as a senior official within the Justice Department from 1993 to 1997 when, amongst different issues, he oversaw the profitable prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombing.
I labored with Garland throughout these years and may attest that each one the superlatives used to explain him are utterly merited. He is an individual of colossal means and fierce dedication to the regulation. Apply these qualities, nonetheless, to what’s going to greet him on the division — the sprawling investigation into the Jan. 6 rebel — and you start to see what may give Biden a headache.
The storming of the Capitol struck on the coronary heart of probably the most basic of federal pursuits. An tried rebel dictates an aggressive, complete Justice Department response. (Some sugget a particular prosecutor, however there’s no inherent battle in investigating a earlier administration.) U.S. attorneys have already begun to stipulate conspiracy costs towards Proud Boys and others, however Garland will even must purpose past boots-in-the-Capitol actors.
As a lot because the Biden administration wants and needs to move previous the Trump period, there’s no manner across the former president’s starring position within the occasions of Jan. 6. For all the explanations specified by vivid element by the House managers on the impeachment trial, a complete investigation should embrace shut scrutiny of Trump’s conduct. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) summed it up on Saturday: Did the previous president stand on a powder keg of his personal devising and light-weight a match?
Trump received’t be the one high-level topic of DOJ scrutiny, both. Rudolph W. Giuliani, who rallied the day’s protesters-cum-terrorists to have interaction in “trial by combat,” and Donald Trump Jr., who joined in post-storming revelry and warned Republican lawmakers on the rally that “You is usually a hero, otherwise you is usually a zero,” will also be investigated.
It’s a fair and interesting question whether any attorney general — who after all is a political appointee and serves at the president’s pleasure — may properly consider the political cost to his boss of applying the law.
Before Jan. 6, the smart money was on Biden’s Department of Justice taking a pass on the various crimes that Trump might have committed as president, including obstruction of justice, as laid out by Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe. Even as strict a straight shooter as Garland could make a case for “moving forward.”
But now, moving forward requires looking back. Garland will fulfill Biden’s “your loyalty is to the nation” charge. Should the facts lead to the conclusion that the former president broke the law, I am certain Garland will not flinch. And that can only mean, in political terms, an unholy mess distracting the nation and Biden from his ambitious agenda.
And Jan. 6 isn’t the only Justice Department issue that may cause the president some pain.
Law enforcement is an inherently conservative enterprise. Garland may endorse some progressive justice reforms — for example, promoting stricter use of force rules in police practice or offering alternatives to prison for certain low-level offenses. But the bread and butter of what U.S. attorneys do is not in line with “defunding the police.” Members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party who expect the Department of Justice to fundamentally revise its law-and-order mission are going to be disappointed, and they are likely to make their chagrin felt at the White House.
What they should expect instead, and what the nation needs, is for Merrick Garland to be an attorney general in the tradition of the illustrious Edward Levi, who took the reins of the department following the chaos and executive branch corruption of Watergate. Levi righted the institution and with it, the credibility of the federal justice system.
Garland’s confirmation will be great good news for the department, the country and the rule of law. For President Biden, however, it may be a little more complicated.
This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Times.