Merrick Garland, Justice Department push back on Republicans’ claims about Trump prosecution

Attorney General Merrick Garland slammed Republican conspiracy theories in a recent op-ed  (AP)
Attorney General Merrick Garland slammed Republican conspiracy theories in a recent op-ed (AP)

Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice are pushing back on Republicans who have falsely accused the department of masterminding the recent prosecution of former president Donald Trump in a New York State court.

Garland took to pages of the Washington Post on Tuesday with an op-ed in which he slammed what he described as “an escalation of attacks that go far beyond public scrutiny, criticism, and legitimate and necessary oversight” from Republicans. He called those attacks “baseless, personal and dangerous” and noted that they’ve directly inspired threats of violence against his department’s personnel.

The AG also decried threats from Republicans in Congress who want to defund the department’s work investigating Trump. He said that attacks “in the form of conspiracy theories crafted and spread for the purpose of undermining public trust in the judicial process itself”.

That includes “false claims” about the prosecution of Trump by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose work resulted in the ex-president being convicted of 24 felony counts by a jury of his peers earlier this month.

Other threats, Garland said, have come against his department “in the form of dangerous falsehoods about the FBI’s law enforcement operations that increase the risks faced by our agents”. Garland referred to similarly false claims by Trump and his allies regarding the FBI’s execution of a search warrant at the former president’s Florida home in August 2022. He added that “false claims that the department is politicizing its work to somehow influence the outcome of an election” are also harmful, adding that the department “will not be intimidated by these attacks.”

Garland’s op-ed came on the same day that Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte dispatched a letter to House Judiciary Committee chair Jim Jordan, in which he directly refuted Republican allegations that Bragg’s prosecution of Trump in New York was somehow directed or controlled by federal officials.

Uriarte noted that the Department of Justice “does not generally make extensive efforts to rebut conspiratorial speculation” because doing so lends credibility to such talk, but cited Garland’s “commitment to transparency” while explaining that DOJ had “taken extraordinary steps” to make clear that there’s “no basis” for the Republican claims of collusion between the department and Bragg or his office.

The Assistant Attorney General informed Jordan that a “comprehensive search” of all emails sent or received between January 21, 2021 — the date President Joe Biden took office —and the day Trump was found guilty of 34 felonies found no communications whatsoever “between any officials in Department leadership, including all political appointees in those offices, and the District Attorney’s office regarding any investigation or prosecution of the former President”.

“This is unsurprising. The District Attorney’s office is a separate entity from the Department. The Department does not supervise the work of the District Attorney’s office, does not approve its charging decisions, and does not try its cases. The Department has no control over the District Attorney, just as the District Attorney has no control over the Department,” he said.

Uriarte also told Jordan that the department had searched the former email account of Mathew Colangelo, an ex-DOJ attorney who left a job as acting head of the department’s civil division to work as a prosecutor in Bragg’s office. He said there had been no communications found between Colangelo and the New York District Attorney or his staff during Colangelo’s tenure at DOJ.

He further noted that such a finding was also “unsurprising” because Colangelo’s responsibilities at the justice department “was to oversee the civil litigation components that report to the Associate’s Office, including the Civil Division, Antitrust Division, Civil Rights Division, and the Environment and Natural Resources Division” rather than any role relating to criminal prosections.

He added that despite Republicans’ claims to the contrary, Colangelo had not been “dispatched” to Bragg’s office.

“Accusations of wrongdoing made without — and in fact contrary to — evidence undermine confidence in the justice system and have contributed to increased threats of violence and attacks on career law enforcement officials and prosecutors,” he said.

“Our extraordinary efforts to respond to your speculation should put it to rest.”