Merrick Garland dismissed claims that he oversaw a Department of Justice that discriminates against Catholics, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee that the suggestion was “outrageous” and “absurd,” given his family’s past fleeing antisemitism in the runup to the Holocaust.
“The idea that someone with my family background would discriminate against any religion is so outrageous, so absurd,” the Attorney General said, becoming emotional at the hearing on Wednesday.
He was responding to a question from Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey Republican, about whether the DoJ considers traditionalist Catholics to be “extremists,” after an FBI memo revealed earlier this year that the bureau had used at least one undercover agent to collect info on potential links between ultra-traditionalist Catholics and the far-right white nationalist movement.
“Both I and the director of the FBI have said that they were appalled by that memo,” Mr Garland continued. “Catholics are not extremists, no,” he added.
Earlier in the hearing, he spoke about his family’s background experiencing persecution and how it informs his present work.
“My family fled religious persecution in Eastern Europe at the start of the 20th century. My grandmother, who was one of five children, born in what is now Belarus, made it to the United States, as did two of her siblings,” he said in his opening remarks.
“The other two did not,” he continued. “Those two were killed in the Holocaust. And there is little doubt that, but for America, the same thing would have happened to my grandmother,” he said, appearing to fight back tears. “But this country took her in. And under the protection of our laws, she was able to live without fear of persecution.”
The hearing was filled with such fiery exchanges, including one round of questioning about Republican conspiracy theories regarding Ukraine and Joe Biden that made the attorney general laugh out loud.
Elsewhere in the hearing, the GOP accused Mr Garland of the “weaponisation” of the DoJ to harm Donald Trump and protect Joe and Hunter Biden.
“There’s one investigation protecting President Biden. There’s another one attacking President Trump,” Jim Jordan of Ohio said. “The Justice Department’s got both sides of the equation covered.”
Mr Garland defended his handling of the gun case against Hunter Biden, the president’s son, saying he hadn’t taken orders from the White House or interfered with the work of special counsel David Weiss, a Trump appointee overseeing the case.
“The way to not interfere was to not investigate an investigation,” Mr Garland said.