Looking over members of President Joe Biden’s cabinet, Attorney General Merrick Garland seemed unlikely to become the target of Republican apoplexy. He was, after all, a respected judge whom some GOP senators used to see as a credible Supreme Court nominee.
Garland is a quiet, moderate, and bookish lawyer with no background as an ideologue or an activist. He’s never sought or held elected office, or expressed any interest in partisan politics. When Biden nominated him to lead the Justice Department, he was confirmed easily — with the support of the Senate Republican leadership. The idea that Garland would become the target of far-right fury seemed improbable.
And yet, here we are.
Several GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee started calling for the attorney general’s resignation nearly a year ago, and those partisan calls continue. Other Senate Republicans have broached the idea of impeaching Garland, while multiple House Republicans have gone to the trouble of introducing impeachment resolutions targeting the AG.
For those who may not keep up with current events, the next question is obvious: What exactly did Garland do to become such a villain in Republican politicians’ eyes?
In theory, the question should be relatively easy to answer. After all, political parties don’t generally launch a crusade against the nation’s chief law enforcement official for no reason.
But in practice, every time GOP officials come up with allegations against Garland, they tend to be amazingly wrong. Consider some of the most common complaints:
Garland approved the application for a search warrant of Mar-a-Lago. That’s true, but there’s no reason to see this as inherently scandalous. Donald Trump has been credibly accused of illegally taking highly sensitive secrets to a glorified country club and refusing to give them back. The attorney general deliberated for weeks whether to proceed, and exhausted other alternatives, before making the obvious call to follow the law. If Republicans have any evidence that Garland has mishandled the case, they’ve kept it to themselves.
Garland hasn’t shared all of the materials related to the Mar-a-Lago search warrant. This claim, pushed by Republican Sen. Tim Scott among others, is also true, but Garland can’t share all of the relevant materials. The criminal justice system is governed by rules designed to protect the accused, and if the attorney general started opening up files before making prosecutorial judgments that would be controversial. That said, the Justice Department has produced quite a bit of unsealed information, and all of it has made the former president look worse.
If Garland’s Justice Department were fair and evenhanded, it’d investigate Hunter Biden. This claim, recently espoused by Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn, was kind of amusing because the Justice Department already is investigating Hunter Biden.
Garland has been indifferent to threats against Supreme Court justices. This claim, which is apparently popular on Fox News, doesn’t appear to be attached to anything specific, though it’s worth emphasizing in the interest of promoting reality that when a man was arrested outside Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home, Garland publicly condemned threats of violence against justices and described measures the Justice Department has taken to protect them. The DOJ is also now prosecuting the man who threatened Kavanaugh.
Garland called innocent American parents “terrorists.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy declared in April, “We’re going to investigate the attorney general. Why did he go after parents and call them ‘terrorists’ simply because they wanted to go to a school board meeting?” In reality, Garland was confronted with real-world evidence of educators being targeted as part of an intimidation campaign, leading him to write a memo explaining the importance of preventing threats and potential violence.
He did not “go after” parents, and McCarthy just made up the part about the attorney general calling parents “terrorists.” As best as I can tell, the GOP leader hasn’t apologized for having lied.
Garland endorsed “spying on” innocent American parents. It was Republican Rep. Jim Jordan who recently published a bizarre tweet claiming that the attorney general allowed the Justice Department “to spy on parents” in order to protect educators from violence. This never happened. In fact, during a congressional hearing, Garland said under oath that he couldn’t imagine the circumstances that would lead the Justice Department to use surveillance powers in such a fashion.
Garland sicced the FBI on innocent American parents. This recent gem came from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said the attorney general “sicced” the FBI on “parents going to school board meetings.” Again, this never actually happened.
Garland challenged Georgia Republicans’ voter-suppression law. This complaint, by way of Republican Sen. John Cornyn, is at least rooted in fact — the Justice Department really did challenge Georgia Republicans’ voter-suppression law — but the fact that a Democratic attorney general and Republican members of Congress disagree about voting restrictions does not a scandal make.
Garland is creating a two-tiered system in which Democrats aren’t prosecuted. I’ve seen several Republicans, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, push variations of this argument, but there’s ample evidence of political figures from both parties facing Justice Department prosecutions since Garland was sworn in. Indeed, if the attorney general were weaponizing federal law enforcement in a partisan way, it’s quite likely that former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke would’ve been indicted — but he wasn’t.
My point, of course, is not that Garland is perfect — I’ve seen plenty of criticisms of him from the left that struck me as persuasive — or that Republicans have to agree with his decisions and priorities. But if GOP officials want their rhetoric and their impeachment resolutions about the attorney general to be taken seriously, they probably ought to think of something he’s actually done wrong.