Merrick Garland denied a speedy confirmation hearing before impeachment trial

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The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected a request from the incoming Democratic chairman to hold a quick hearing for President Joe Biden’s attorney general nominee, Merrick Garland, punting the potential confirmation until after the the impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, the outgoing committee leader, responded to a letter from Sen. Dick Durbin, who will soon lead the panel but hasn’t taken the reins yet because a power-sharing agreement in the evenly divided Senate has not yet been formalized, telling the Illinois Democrat that a quick one-day confirmation hearing next Monday before the Senate trial begins on Tuesday is not acceptable.

“I agree completely that Judge Garland deserves a hearing — even a prompt one. However … a one-day hearing as you are proposing the day before the impeachment trial of a former president is insufficient,” Graham said Monday night. “The last five nominees to be attorney general all received two-day hearings. Although I am very inclined to support Judge Garland, I have many questions for him, including how he intends to handle ongoing investigations at the Department of Justice as well as the threats of extremism on the far left and the far right.”

Graham added: “Your request is highly unusual. The Senate is about to conduct its first ever impeachment trial of a former president, and only its fourth trial of a president, incumbent or not. Under the procedure the Senate has adopted, Donald Trump’s trial is set to start on February 9. But you want us to rush through Judge Garland’s hearing on February 8. An impeachment is no small thing. It requires the Senate’s complete focus. This is why I didn’t consider any judicial nominees during last year’s impeachment trial. Democrats do not get to score political points in an unprecedented act of political theater on one hand while also trying to claim the mantle of good government on the other.”

The Democratic-led House voted to impeach Trump was an article accusing him of inciting an insurrection; 10 Republicans voted in favor of impeachment. Trump has called the impeachment a “hoax” and his new legal team has taken the same stance as Graham in arguing that impeachment proceedings against a president who is out of office is unconstitutional.

Durbin sent a letter to Graham earlier on Monday, saying “there is simply no justification for delaying Judge Garland’s hearing any further.”

“Given the Attorney General’s role as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, this Committee should promptly consider Attorney General nominees as a general practice,” Durbin told the South Carolina Republican, adding that “the events of January 6” — when a large crowd rioted on Capitol grounds and stormed the Capitol Building as members of Congress counted the votes certifying Biden’s victory over Trump — “made even clearer the need to quickly process Judge Garland’s nomination.”

Garland, a Harvard Law School graduate and judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit who was former President Barack Obama’s ill-fated 2016 nominee for the Supreme Court who never got a confirmation hearing or vote, would take over at a contentious time for the Justice Department if confirmed.

The Justice Department said last week that 400 subject case files have been opened so far with more than 150 cases with federal charges and that “specialized teams” were considering “seditious conspiracy” charges and were still investigating the deaths of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick and Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt. Sicknick died on Jan. 7 “due to injuries sustained while on-duty” after he was “injured while physically engaging with protesters,” according to Capitol Police. Babbitt, an Air Force veteran, was fatally shot by an officer while attempting to enter the House chamber through broken windows. The pipe bombs found by investigators outside the headquarters for the RNC and DNC had been planted the night before the storming of the Capitol.

Durbin offered up three main arguments for holding a one day confirmation hearing in one week — first, that holding it Monday would meet Graham’s desire for it not to occur amid the Senate trial; second, that holding it in a week “affords ample time” to review Garland’s record; and third “and most importantly — to delay Judge Garland’s hearing jeopardizes our national security” because the attorney general “oversees a multitude of Justice Department components and agencies that are vital to protecting the homeland from threats both foreign and domestic.”

But Graham rejected these arguments. “The last five attorneys general — Bill Barr, Jeff Sessions, Loretta Lynch, Eric Holder, and Michael Mukasey — all had two day hearings,” he said. “It isn’t clear to me why Judge Garland’s extensive record deserves any less.”

“The reason we can’t give Judge Garland two days next week is, of course, that Senate Democrats voted to proceed with former President Trump’s impeachment trial on February 9,” Graham said.

“I look forward to questioning Judge Garland and potentially supporting his nomination, but not on February 8,” he added, concluding by saying that “proceeding with the confirmation of an attorney general and the impeachment of a former president at the same time would give neither the attention required.”

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