Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general, on Monday struggled to say whether illegal immigration should remain a crime.
The moment: Garland, responding to questioning by Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, eventually concluded: “I just don’t know the answer to that question. I haven’t thought about it.”
“Will you continue to prosecute unlawful border crossings?” pressed Hawley during the first day of Garland’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- After saying it was a “question of allocation of resources,” Garland added, “I have to admit, I just don’t underst— know exactly what the conditions are and how this is done … I don’t know what the current program even is with respect to this … So, I assume that the answer would be yes, but I don’t what the issues surrounding it are.”
Dodge ball: Garland, 68, a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, also pleaded ignorance to Republicans’ questions about special counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.
- Garland said he has “no reason” to think leaving Durham in place to continue the probe is the wrong decision but declined to commit to doing so.
- “I don’t know really anything about the investigation,” he said later.
Garland was similarly evasive about Biden’s recent executive order that students should be allowed to participate in sports under their chosen gender identity “is fundamentally unfair to female athletes.”
- This is a very difficult societal question that you’re asking me here, I know what underlies it,” he told Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican.
- “Look, I think every human being should be treated with dignity and respect. And that’s an overriding sense of my own character, but an overriding sense of what the law requires.”
What about political violence?: Garland was somewhat more forthcoming when Hawley grilled him about his views on policing and violent crime.
- The nominee said he opposes defunding the police, as called for by some activists and Democrats in Congress, but he doubted that antifa attacks on federal property qualify as domestic terrorism.
Garland, who led the Justice Department’s prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombing, said the ongoing federal inquiry into the Jan. 6 Capitol riot so far seemed aggressive and “perfectly appropriate.”
The bottom line: Five years after Republicans blocked Garland from joining the Supreme Court, he appeared to have the bipartisan support to win this nomination.