A number of Republican senators who blithely supported former Attorney General Bill Barr using his post to act as former President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer are suddenly expressing serious concern that Merrick Garland promise to be apolitical in the same role.
“My sole criterion for voting for your confirmation is your pledge to make sure that politics does not affect your job as attorney general,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said Monday at Garland’s Senate Judiciary hearing.
Cornyn, who voted to confirm Barr, later was a point Republican scrambling to smooth over strained relations between Trump and Barr last winter, loathe to let a reliable ally be fired going into the election.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took the argument a step further, blaming the “Obama-Biden Justice Department” for being “politicized and weaponized” in an unprecedented way.
“It is very much my hope, if you are confirmed as attorney general, that you will bring that reputation for integrity to the Department of Justice and demonstrate a willingness to stand up to what will be inevitable political pressure to once again politicize the Department of Justice and use it as a tool to attack the political opponents of the current administration,” he said.
He did not mention the Trump-era DOJ in his line of questioning.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) adopted Cruz’s framing too, citing the “Obama-Biden administration” as the exemplar of a corrupt DOJ.
“If you are confirmed, will you resist the calls and efforts by political groups to politicize the Department of Justice, to use political targeting, will you adhere to the statute down the middle and enforce the law fairly and equally?” he asked.
Trump politicized the DOJ in public, routinely using his Twitter account to call for investigations into political enemies including Hillary Clinton and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
He had such sway that his tweeted displeasure of prosecutors’ sentencing guidelines for close ally Roger Stone appear to have prompted top DOJ officials — including Barr — to intervene and reduce the recommended sentence. In another particularly egregious episode, the department dropped charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — who had already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI — after Trump voiced his displeasure.