Garland defends justice department and warns of government shutdown in House hearing on Hunter Biden case – live

‘We will not be intimidated’, Garland says as he defends justice department’s independence

Merrick Garland used his opening statement to defend the independence of the justice department and warn against personal attacks on its officials.

“Our job is to pursue justice, without fear or favor. Our job is not to do what is politically convenient. Our job is not to take orders from the president, from Congress or from anyone else about who or what criminally investigate, as the president himself has said, and I reaffirmed today, I am not a president’s lawyer. I will add I am not Congress’s prosecutor,” Garland said.

He continued:

The justice department works for the American people. Our job is to follow the facts and the law. And that is what we do. All of us recognize that with this work comes public scrutiny, criticism and legitimate oversight. These are appropriate and important, given the matters and the gravity of the matters that are before the department. But singling out individual career public servants who aren’t just doing their jobs is dangerous, particularly at a time of increased threats to the safety of public servants and their families. We will not be intimidated. We will do our jobs free from outside influence, and we will not back down from defending our democracy.

Key events

In a new book, one of the most-remembered witnesses to testify before the January 6 committee says that she was groped on the day of the insurrection by Rudy Giuliani, the Guardian’s Martin Pengelly reports:

Cassidy Hutchinson, the former Trump aide turned crucial January 6 witness, says in a new book she was groped by Rudy Giuliani, who was “like a wolf closing in on its prey”, on the day of the attack on the Capitol.

Describing meeting with Giuliani backstage at Donald Trump’s speech near the White House before his supporters marched on Congress in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election, Hutchinson says the former New York mayor turned Trump lawyer put his hand “under my blazer, then my skirt”.

“I feel his frozen fingers trail up my thigh,” she writes. “He tilts his chin up. The whites of his eyes look jaundiced. My eyes dart to [Trump adviser] John Eastman, who flashes a leering grin.

“I fight against the tension in my muscles and recoil from Rudy’s grip … filled with rage, I storm through the tent, on yet another quest for Mark.”

Mark Meadows, Trump’s final chief of staff, was Hutchinson’s White House boss. Hutchinson’s memoir, Enough, describes the now 27-year-old’s journey from Trump supporter to disenchantment, and her role as a key witness for the House January 6 committee. It will be published in the US next Tuesday. The Guardian obtained a copy.

The House is lurching towards both a government shutdown and an impeachment of Joe Biden that faces uncertain chances of success. But however those two issues are resolved, the Guardian’s David Smith reports they will take a toll on American democracy:

If it’s Thursday, it must be impeachment. If it’s Saturday, it must be government shutdown. Next week, Republicans in Congress seem determined to prove that US democracy is broken.

The party plans to hold the first hearing on its impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden over his family’s business dealings on 28 September. Meanwhile the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is barreling towards a deadline of 30 September to keep federal agencies running.

The double header indicates how both impeachments and government shutdowns – once seen as rare, dangerous and to be avoided at all costs – have become political weapons deployed with increasing abandon.

“In the past few years we’ve seen the routinisation of the unusual,” said Bill Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington. “It’s terrible for the country. It’s hard enough for a great nation to conduct its affairs without this sort of shortsighted nonsense getting in its way. Government as we know it is grinding to a halt.”

Only three presidents have been impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors” and none were convicted: Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998 and Donald Trump in both 2019 and 2021. Now, House Republicans have launched an impeachment inquiry against Biden with no discernible evidence of an impeachable offence.

As you can see in this video clip, it’s currently John Fetterman’s turn to preside over the Senate and, thanks to the new dress code, he’s doing so in his signature garb:

Amid a relaxed dress code freakout, Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) is currently presiding over the U.S. Senate in a short-sleeved shirt, no tie, and, presumably, shorts. pic.twitter.com/5txlXQLs1a

— The Recount (@therecount) September 20, 2023

As the government heads toward a shutdown thanks to infighting among House Republicans, the Democratic senator John Fetterman has made a proposition.

If “those jagoffs in the House”, by which he most likely means the GOP, pass a resolution to fund the government, he’ll wear a suit on the Senate floor, the senator says on X:

If those jagoffs in the House stop trying to shut our government down, and fully support Ukraine, then I will save democracy by wearing a suit on the Senate floor next week.

— Senator John Fetterman (@SenFettermanPA) September 20, 2023

The Pennsylvania lawmaker is known for reporting to the Capitol in shorts and a hoodie, and a newly relaxed dress code in the chamber will allow him to cast votes without the coat and tie typically worn by male senators.

Among the more colorful interlocutors on the House judiciary committee is Matt Gaetz, a far-right Republican who has lately been calling for defunding the FBI.

He got into it with Merrick Garland over Hunter Biden’s interactions with his father. Though he may be a rightwing fixation and facing his own legal trouble, Joe Biden is often seen with his son at the White House or at events, and Gaetz wanted to know more about that.

“Has anyone at the department told president Biden to knock it off with Hunter? I mean, you guys are charging Hunter Biden on some crimes, investigating him on others, you’ve got the president bringing Hunter Biden around to state dinners. Has anyone told him to knock it off?” Gaetz asked.

“No one that I know of has spoken to the White House about the Hunter Biden case, of course not,” Garland replied, with barely concealed annoyance.

Garland warns government shutdown would ‘certainly disrupt’ justice department

Merrick Garland has warned that if the government shuts down at the end of the month, as it seems on course to do, the justice department’s ability to fight crime and work with law enforcement nationwide would be curtailed.

“I haven’t done a complete calculation on the effects of a shutdown and the difference between which employees are indispensable under the statute and which ones not,” Garland said. “It will certainly disrupt all of our normal programs, including our grant programs to state and local law enforcement and to our ability to conduct our normal efforts with respect to the entire scope of our activities, including helping state and locals fight violent crime.”

The federal government’s fiscal year ends on 30 September, but infighting among House Republicans has prevented Congress from reauthorizing spending beyond that date, or even agreeing on a short-term measure to keep the government funded while they negotiate a larger agreement.

Much of the questioning the attorney general, Merrick Garland, is facing today centers on Hunter Biden, the president’s son whose foreign business entanglements and actions while struggling with drug addiction have been a fixation for Republicans eager to prove the president is corrupt. His case is long and complicated, so here is the Guardian’s Mary Yang with a look at the major events:

Federal prosecutors indicted Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, over illegally possessing a firearm in Delaware on Thursday. The indictment comes a month after the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, appointed the US attorney David Weiss, a Trump nominee, to oversee the investigation as special counsel.

Hunter Biden has been at the center of a years-long investigation into his tax affairs that was set to close with a guilty plea. But that plea deal fell apart at a Delaware courthouse after the Trump-appointed judge said she could not agree to the deal, which ensured Biden would avoid jail time in a separate case of illegally possessing a gun while using drugs.

Amid the controversy, the president has repeatedly said he supports his son and Hunter has been seen regularly at family events. Asked if President Biden would pardon his son in the event of any conviction, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters: “No.”

But the younger Biden has been embroiled in a list of unrelated controversies for years, including his overseas dealings and struggles with addiction, which ex-President Trump and his allies have regularly sought to use as fodder for attacks.

Here’s a comprehensive timeline of the moments that have propelled Hunter Biden into the limelight.

The judiciary committee’s highest-ranking Democrat Jerry Nadler then got a turn to question Merrick Garland, and asked him what would happen if the FBI was defunded.

“Defund the FBI” has become a rallying cry for extreme rightwing Republicans such as representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz as well as the presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who claim the law enforcement agency has become politicized.

Defunding the FBI “would leave the United States naked to the malign influence of the Chinese Communist party, to the attacks by Iranians on American citizens and attempts to assassinate former officials, to the Russian aggression, to North Korean cyber-attacks, to violent crime in the United States, which the FBI helps to fight against, to all kinds of espionage, to domestic violent extremists who have attacked our churches, our synagogues or mosques and who have killed individuals out of racial hatred. I just I cannot imagine the consequences of defunding the FBI, but they would be catastrophic,” Garland said.

Republican congressman Mike Johnson kicked off the questioning by asking Merrick Garland if he has had any discussions with David Weiss, the special prosecutor handling the investigation of Hunter Biden.

There was much back and forth on this, with Garland generally refusing to provide Johnson the details he wanted. “I do not intend to discuss the internal justice department deliberations, whether or not I had them,” Garland said.

‘We will not be intimidated’, Garland says as he defends justice department’s independence

Merrick Garland used his opening statement to defend the independence of the justice department and warn against personal attacks on its officials.

“Our job is to pursue justice, without fear or favor. Our job is not to do what is politically convenient. Our job is not to take orders from the president, from Congress or from anyone else about who or what criminally investigate, as the president himself has said, and I reaffirmed today, I am not a president’s lawyer. I will add I am not Congress’s prosecutor,” Garland said.

He continued:

The justice department works for the American people. Our job is to follow the facts and the law. And that is what we do. All of us recognize that with this work comes public scrutiny, criticism and legitimate oversight. These are appropriate and important, given the matters and the gravity of the matters that are before the department. But singling out individual career public servants who aren’t just doing their jobs is dangerous, particularly at a time of increased threats to the safety of public servants and their families. We will not be intimidated. We will do our jobs free from outside influence, and we will not back down from defending our democracy.

In his opening remarks, Jerry Nadler, the highest-ranking Democrat on the panel, accused Republicans of using the hearing to spread “conspiracy theories” rather than address issues facing their constituents.

“Today, I implore the public to see through the sham. I have no doubt that you will hear a deluge of conspiracy theories and baseless accusations. They will quote freely from so-called whistleblowers who have been broadly discredited or contradicted. They will viciously attack federal law enforcement,” Nadler said.

He then cited gun deaths, white nationalism and domestic terrorism as problems facing the United States today, and said:

We could work with the department of justice and attorney general Garland to address any number of real substantive problems facing the American people. Instead … we’ll use that time today to talk about long-discredited conspiracy theories.

GOP committee chairman Jim Jordan opens hearing with skepticism over Hunter Biden case

As expected, the judiciary committee’s chairman Jim Jordan is going hard on Hunter Biden’s legal troubles in his opening statement.

“The fix is in,” he declared, before criticizing Attorney General Merrick Garland’s decision to appoint David Weiss as a special counsel to handle to investigation into the president’s son. Weiss is the federal prosecutor in Delaware who was appointed by Donald Trump and kept in his job even after Joe Biden took the White House and swapped out most other US attorneys nationwide.

Despite that, Jordan thinks Weiss is undermining the investigation into Hunter Biden, which has centered on claims he failed to pay income taxes and lied about using drugs while buying a gun. Biden was indicted on the latter charge last week.

“He could have selected anyone,” Jordan said of Garland. “He could have picked anyone inside government, outside government. He could have picked former attorney generals, former special counsels but he picks the one guy … he knows will protect Joe Biden. He picks David Weiss.”

Attorney General Garland arrives for hearing before GOP-led House judiciary committee

The attorney general, Merrick Garland, has arrived for today’s hearing of the House judiciary committee, where the panel’s Republican majority will no doubt press him on the prosecutions of Donald Trump and Hunter Biden as they make their case that the president should be impeached.

We’ll be covering it here live, and a livestream will be posted for you to watch at the top of the page.

The 25 Republicans and 19 Democrats on the House judiciary committee will all get a chance to ask Merrick Garland a question, but he does not have to answer them.

Like many prosecutors, the attorney general typically does not talk about open investigations, and you can generally expect him to refuse to comment on sensitive subjects he has publicly tried to stay independent from, such as special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecutions of Donald Trump.

As Fox News reports, Republicans seem aware of this. Here’s what Louisiana’s Mike Johnson had to say:

GOP LA Rep Johnson on Garland testifying to House cmte today: I don’t think he can satisfy us

— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) September 20, 2023

Attorney General Merrick Garland’s appearance before the House judiciary committee will start at 10am ET, and will in some ways serve as a preview of the broader effort to impeach Joe Biden.

The Republican speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, announced the inquiry last week, and appointed the judiciary committee as one of three bodies that will lead the investigation. Republicans are alleging corruption on the part of the president, mostly due to the actions of his son Hunter Biden, but they have yet to turn up any proof that the elder Biden profited from his son’s business ventures.

Nonetheless, expect the judiciary committee’s chair, Jim Jordan, and other GOP members to press Garland on Hunter Biden, and in particular, the now-aborted plea deal he had been offered by federal prosecutors to resolve tax and gun charges against him.

Biden to meet Israel’s Netanyahu, Brazil’s Lula on UN sidelines

As Congress lurches towards an increasingly likely government shutdown and House Republicans prepare to question the attorney general, Merrick Garland, Joe Biden is in New York City, where he’s expected to meet with the leaders of two major US partners.

First up is Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, followed by Brazil’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The meetings take place on the sidelines of the United Nations general assembly, which is ongoing, with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy set to address a special security council meeting on the war in his country.

The Guardian’s Léonie Chao-Fong is covering it all live, and you can follow along below:

Garland set for face-off with House Republicans, will argue ‘I am not the president’s lawyer’

Good morning, US politics blog readers. The attorney general, Merrick Garland, is appearing before the House judiciary committee today, which is controlled by some of Donald Trump’s staunchest supporters in Congress. There is no doubt the committee’s chair, Jim Jordan, and other lawmakers will accuse Garland of using his position as America’s top law enforcement official to retaliate against Joe Biden’s enemies, a contention the attorney general will push back on forcefully. “I am not the president’s lawyer,” Garland will say, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks that CNN obtained. “I will also add that I am not Congress’s prosecutor. The justice department works for the American people.”

Ever since taking control of the House earlier this year, the GOP has used its power to defend Trump, malign Hunter Biden and, as of last week, begin an impeachment inquiry into the president. Expect them to use the hearing to lob tons of questions on these topics at Garland, who by no means has to answer them.

Here’s what else is happening today:

  • We are now 11 days away from a government shutdown, which is looking increasingly likely, after House Republicans yesterday cancelled a vote on a bill to continue funding for 30 days and voted down their own defense spending measure.

  • Biden is in New York City for the United Nations general assembly, and will today meet with Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Brazil’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

  • Rupert Murdoch, the conservative media titan, often wishes Trump dead, according to a new book obtained by the Guardian.

source: theguardian.com