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Attorney General Merrick Garland to appear before House Judiciary Committee

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

This morning, House Republicans are preparing tough questions for Attorney General Merrick Garland.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

They want to press him on how the Justice Department handled the investigation into Hunter Biden, the president's son, as well as the indictments of former President Donald Trump.

FADEL: NPR's Jaclyn Diaz will be watching this hearing before the House Judiciary Committee for us, and she's with us now. Good morning, Jaclyn.

JACLYN DIAZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So Merrick Garland is testifying at a pretty unprecedented time with these indictments. What are you expecting?

DIAZ: So it's pretty standard for the head of the DOJ to come before Congress as part of the committee's oversight powers. But Attorney General Garland is going to be in the hot seat. Garland has made several efforts to portray his office as independent of the president and that it makes decisions on cases with no interference from Biden or anyone else.

Still, Republicans have long criticized Garland and the DOJ, claiming there's been unequal treatment since Trump, their de facto party leader, has been indicted twice on 44 federal charges, and Hunter Biden was recently indicted on three gun charges. Now, these are very different cases, but they are behind the ramped-up attacks on Garland and his agency from Republicans.

Meanwhile, Democrats say Republicans aren't really looking for facts or truth - just a political advantage. And that's the context in which Garland testifies today.

FADEL: So what do you expect the Republican-led House committee to focus on?

DIAZ: Well, the Republicans have made it clear they want to focus on Hunter Biden. They've spent months in the House investigating Hunter Biden in an attempt to link wrongdoing to his father, President Biden. But so far, there's been no concrete evidence. In an interview with the Washington Examiner this week, Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan made it clear that a major focus for the committee this morning will be on Hunter Biden and special counsels Jack Smith and David Weiss. Smith, of course, is the head prosecutor in the federal Trump criminal cases. Weiss is the special counsel in charge of investigating the president's son.

Hunter Biden has been under federal investigation in Delaware for years now. David Weiss, who Trump appointed, has investigated him since 2019. And in August, Weiss was made special counsel by Garland. This was only done after a plea deal between Biden and federal prosecutors fell apart. As part of the plea deal, he would've avoided prosecution on a felony firearm offense. And earlier this month, Biden was indicted on felony gun charges.

But in the middle of all of this, two IRS agents came forward and accused the DOJ of giving Biden's son preferential treatment and slow-walking the investigation into him. Jordan has said that Weiss himself will be brought in front of the committee to answer some of these questions sometime later this fall.

FADEL: And you said special counsel Jack Smith, the man who indicted Trump, will be a topic of interest as well.

DIAZ: Many Republican lawmakers have long defended former President Trump. They've portrayed him as a victim of politics following his indictments this summer for attempting to subvert democracy in one case and knowingly withholding classified documents in another. And the GOP, along with Trump himself, continue to claim that Jack Smith is using these criminal indictments against Trump as a way to attack the former president and to interfere in the 2024 election.

FADEL: And really quickly, what do we expect Garland to say?

DIAZ: Garland is expected to defend the Justice Department. He's not going to directly comment on those cases regarding Trump or Hunter Biden. The agency makes a habit of not commenting on open investigations. But he will defend the work of his agency amid all of this public scrutiny and warn against attacks against public servants like Weiss and Smith.

FADEL: NPR's Jaclyn Diaz, thanks.

DIAZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.