‘I Don’t Know’: Garland Shrugs Off ‘Extremist’ Profiling, Hunter Biden Questions During Hearing
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland was grilled by Congress on Wednesday over a wide range of issues, including the FBI’s targeting of American Catholics as violent extremists and concerned parents as domestic terrorists, as well as the Justice Department’s treatment of Hunter Biden’s alleged crimes. Garland admitted, under oath, that he is unaware of any results of his department’s investigation into the memo published by the FBI’s Richmond field office targeting American Catholics as “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.”
Are ‘Traditional’ Catholics Violent Extremists?
Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) asked Garland if “traditional Catholics” are extremists. The attorney general responded, “I have no idea what ‘traditional’ means here.” Van Drew shot back, “Catholics who go to church.” Referring to his Jewish heritage, Garland stated, “The idea that someone with my family background would discriminate against any religion is so outrageous, is so absurd.” Van Drew cut him off to point out, “It was your FBI that did this. It was your FBI that was sending — and we have the memos, we have the emails — were sending undercover agents into Catholic churches.”
Again, Garland demurred, saying, “Both I and the director of the FBI have said that we were appalled by that memo.” Van Drew asked him again, “So then you agree that they’re [Catholics], not extremists?” The congressman had to ask Garland three more times whether Catholics are extremists before getting an answer: “Are they extremists or not? I’m asking a simple question, say no if you think that was wrong.” Garland snarled, “Catholics are not extremists, no.”
The memo in question was drafted and published by the FBI’s Richmond field office and was leaked to the public earlier this year. It detailed plans to infiltrate and spy on Catholic parishes and communities celebrating the Tridentine form of the Mass and relied on information from the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to label such Catholics “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.” The SPLC classifies “radical traditionalist Catholics” as a hate group and places them on a list alongside the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
The House Judiciary Committee has previously questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray on the creation of the Richmond memo. Committee chair Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) had asked Wray if Congress can interview the FBI officers responsible for crafting and publishing the memo. Wray flatly said no, explaining that the FBI is conducting its own “internal review,” which Jordan noted is distinctly different from a criminal investigation.
The FBI has increasingly refused to permit even legal oversight of its activities. For example, advocacy groups CatholicVote and Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request back in March, seeking details on the use of the Richmond field office memo. The request was ignored for months and, after a lawsuit was filed, the FBI finally responded, telling CatholicVote and Judicial Watch they don’t have the right to access that information.
Van Drew asked Garland on Wednesday if anyone had been disciplined or fired over the creation, publication, and circulation of the memo. Garland responded, “I don’t know.”
Arielle Del Turco, director of Family Research Council’s Center for Religious Liberty told The Washington Stand, “Regardless of how heated Attorney General Merrick Garland gets in his congressional hearing when he’s questioned about the FBI targeting Catholics, the fact remains that this happened under his watch. Instead of dodging questions about how the FBI may have violated the First Amendment rights of Catholic Americans who were simply attending Mass, Garland should do a better job protecting religious freedom in the first place.”
Garland Claims FBI Pursuing Church Attackers, Despite Few Arrests
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) questioned Garland on what purpose the FBI actually serves, noting that some Republicans have called for “defunding” the Bureau due to its political weaponization. “I cannot imagine the consequences of defunding the FBI, but they would be catastrophic,” Garland said, adding that, among other things, the FBI pursues “domestic violent extremists who have attacked our churches, our synagogues, our mosques …”
However, as The Washington Stand has previously reported, Garland and the DOJ have done little, if anything, to prosecute the rising number of crimes committed against churches in the U.S. According to research conducted by Family Research Council, over 200 churches were attacked in 2022 alone, and nearly 70 within the first three months of 2023. CatholicVote has tracked roughly the same number of church attacks and estimates less than 25% of those attacks — which include vandalism, destruction of property, and arson and firebombing — have yielded prosecutions.
Concerning Concerned Parents
Garland was also questioned on a 2021 memo he issued instructing the FBI and DOJ to “discourage,” “identify,” and “prosecute” parents who spoke or protested at school board meetings, responding to calls from the National School Board Association declaring parents to be “domestic terrorists.” Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.) questioned Garland on the memo and on his decision to target American parents. The attorney general explained that he had not coordinated with the FBI before issuing the memo; in prior testimony, FBI Director Wray had clarified that he was unaware of any evidence linking concerned parents to domestic terrorism or any substantial threat of violence.
But on Wednesday, Garland defended issuing the memo and clarified that he wouldn’t issue any retractions.
‘Two-Tiered’ Justice System
The attorney general was further questioned on the DOJ’s treatment of Hunter Biden and his alleged crimes. Congressmen accused Garland and his DOJ of cultivating a “two-tiered” justice system, showing favoritism to the Biden family and other leftists while going out of their way to harass the likes of former president Donald Trump. Jordan quipped, “There’s one investigation protecting President Biden. There’s another one attacking President Trump. The Justice Department’s got both sides of the equation covered.”
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) questioned Garland on his involvement in the FBI’s investigation into Hunter Biden, asking, “Have you had personal contact with anyone at FBI HQ about the Hunter Biden investigation?” Garland responded, “Uh, I don’t recollect the answer to that question. But the FBI works for the Justice Department.” Johnson asked, “You don’t recollect whether you talked to anybody at FBI headquarters about an investigation into the president’s son?” Garland again responded, “I don’t believe that I did.”
Jordan then questioned the attorney general on allowing the statute of limitations to expire for criminal tax charges against Hunter Biden. The charges would have applied to Hunter’s time as an executive at the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, while his father was vice president of the United States and in charge of overseeing the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy.
“They made an intentional decision to say we’re going to let the statute of limitations lapse,” Jordan said. “I want to know who decided that and why they did it.” Garland deferred to the U.S. attorney for Delaware David Weiss, who is in charge of prosecuting Hunter Biden, saying, “He made the appropriate decisions. You’ll be able to ask him that question.” Jordan replied, “Those tax years involved the president. It’s one thing to have a gun charge in Delaware. That doesn’t involve the president of the United States. But Burisma, oh my, that goes right to the White House. We can’t have that.”
Garland was also questioned on Weiss’s prosecution of Hunter — specifically why several U.S. attorneys refused to allow Weiss to file criminal charges against the younger Biden in their jurisdictions. Biden-appointed U.S. attorneys in both California and Washington, D.C. refused to allow Weiss to file charges with their offices, despite the fact that Garland said the prosecutor had complete authority in the prosecution. Jordan said, “You said he had complete authority, but he had already been turned down. He wanted to bring an action in the District of Columbia and the U.S. attorney there said, ‘No, you can’t.’ Then you go tell the United States Senate under oath that he has complete authority.”
Garland responded, “I’m going to say again that no one had the authority to turn him down. They could refuse to partner with him.” Jordan noted, “‘Refuse to partner’ is turning down.” Garland said, “It’s not the same, under a well-known Justice Department practice.” When pressed for further clarity on issues pertaining to Hunter Biden, Garland said, “I’m not permitted to discuss ongoing investigations.” Jordan quipped, “Isn’t that convenient?”
S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.