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Judge Merrick B. Garland on Monday said the United States faces “a more dangerous period” from domestic extremists than it faced at the time of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and praised the early stages of the investigation into the “white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol” on Jan. 6 as appropriately aggressive.
“I can assure you that this would be my first priority and my first briefing when I return to the department if I am confirmed,” Judge Garland told the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearing to be attorney general.
Judge Garland, 68, who led the Justice Department’s investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, also vowed to uphold the independence of a Justice Department that had suffered deep politicization under the Trump administration.
“I do not plan to be interfered with by anyone,” Judge Garland said. Should he be confirmed, he said that he would uphold the principle that “the attorney general represents the public interest.”
Former President Donald J. Trump spent his term treating federal prosecutors as either enemies to be crushed or players to be used to attack his political opponents, and Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in his opening remarks that Judge Garland would need to “restore the faith of the American people and the rule of law and equal justice.”
Here is where Judge Garland stood on some other key issues of the hearing:
Hunter Biden, John Durham and Trump-era investigations
The ranking Republican, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, pressed Judge Garland on two politically charged investigations from the Trump era, asking whether he had discussed with Mr. Biden what he would do with a federal tax investigation into Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and whether he would let John Durham, a special counsel investigating the Trump-Russia inquiry, finish his work and then make any Durham report public.
Judge Garland said he had not discussed the Hunter Biden case with the president and expected that “decisions about investigations and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department.” He demurred about the Durham investigation, saying that while he was committed to transparency, he had not yet been briefed about its status and findings.
“I don’t have any reason — from what I know now, which is really very little — to make any determination on that ground. I don’t have any reason to think that he should not remain in place,” he said of Mr. Durham. About the disclosure of any report, he added, “I would have to talk with Mr. Durham and understand the nature of what he has been doing and the nature of the report.”
When pressed further about the Hunter Biden case later in the hearing, Judge Garland added that he knew only what he had read about that case in the media, but had no reason to think that the Biden administration erred in deciding to let the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Delaware overseeing the investigation, David C. Weiss, continue his work.
Immigration and family separation
Judge Garland also pledged that he would cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the actions of the Trump-era Justice Department on immigration and its “zero tolerance policy” that led to large numbers of parents being separated from their children.
“I think the policy was shameful,” Judge Garland said. “I can’t imagine anything worse than separating parents from their children. And we will provide all of the cooperation that we possibly can.”
Judge Garland said that he would reinvigorate the department’s civil rights division, which atrophied as the Trump administration curbed protections for transgender people and minorities, and barred policies intended to combat systemic discrimination.
“Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment and the criminal justice system,” Judge Garland said.
Progressives have pushed local governments to “defund” their police departments after killings and assaults on Black people by officers. Judge Garland said that, like President Biden, he does not “support defunding the police.”
Five years ago, when President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, then the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, effectively killed Judge Garland’s chances by refusing to even schedule a confirmation hearing to consider the nomination.
On Monday, Judge Garland came before that committee for a hearing on whether to confirm him as President Biden’s attorney general. Mr. Grassley — now the ranking Republican on the panel — gave him a much more welcoming reception, saying that “no one doubts that Judge Garland is qualified for the job.”
“I like you, I respect you, and I think you are a good pick for this job,” Mr. Grassley said.
The warm greeting underscored why Judge Garland is widely expected to be confirmed as attorney general, in stark contrast to the Republican blockade he ran into in 2016. Republicans have lost control of the Senate, and the dynamics for a temporary confirmation to an executive-branch position are very different than for a life-tenured Supreme Court seat.
Mr. Grassley acknowledged that “my Republican colleagues and I decided not to hold a hearing on his nomination” to the Supreme Court, noting that the vacancy arose in an election year and Republicans controlled the Senate. But Mr. Grassley also noted that he did not attack Judge Garland, referring to the brutal confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
“Yes, it is true that I did not give Judge Garland a hearing,” Mr. Grassley said. “I also didn’t mischaracterize his record. I didn’t attack his character. I did not go through his high school yearbook. I didn’t make his wife leave the hearing in tears. I took a position on hearings and I stuck to it and that’s it. I admire Judge Garland’s public service.”
As the hearing unfolded, senators from both parties continued to treat Judge Garland with warmth. The atmosphere became emotional when Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, asked Judge Garland to publicly explain something they two had discussed privately about his motivation and family history in confronting hate and discrimination.
“I come from a family where my grandparents fled anti-Semitism and persecution. The country took us in — and protected us,” said Judge Garland, whose family emigrated to the Midwest from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s.
Speaking haltingly, Judge Garland continued: “And I feel an obligation to the country to pay back; this is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back. And so I want very much to be the kind of attorney general that you are saying I could become. I will do my best to try to be that kind of attorney general.”
The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a last-ditch attempt by former President Donald J. Trump to shield his financial records, issuing a brief, unsigned order requiring Mr. Trump’s accountants to turn over his tax and other records to prosecutors in New York.
The court’s order was a decisive defeat for Mr. Trump, who had gone to extraordinary lengths to keep his tax returns and related documents secret.
The case concerned a subpoena to Mr. Trump’s accountants, Mazars USA, by the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a Democrat. The firm has said it will comply with the final ruling of the courts, meaning that the grand jury should receive the documents in short order.
Mr. Vance issued a three-word statement: “The work continues.”
Under grand jury secrecy rules, it would ordinarily be unclear when, if ever, the public would see the information. But The New York Times has obtained more than two decades of tax return data of Mr. Trump and his companies, and it recently published a series of articles about them.
Mr. Trump, the articles said, has sustained significant losses, owes enormous debts that he is personally obligated to repay, has avoided paying federal income taxes in 11 of the 18 years The Times examined and paid just $750 in both 2016 and 2017.
The scope of Mr. Vance’s inquiry remains unclear. It arose partly from an investigation by his office into hush-money payments to two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump, relationships the president has denied. But court filings by prosecutors suggested that they are also investigating potential crimes like tax and insurance fraud.
The subpoena sought tax records and financial statements since 2011, engagement agreements with the accountants who prepared them, the underlying raw financial data and information about how the data were analyzed.
Aiming to steer more federal aid to the smallest and most vulnerable businesses, the Biden administration is altering the Paycheck Protection Program’s rules, increasing the amount sole proprietors are eligible to receive.
But that change — along with a 14-day freeze on loans to companies with 20 or more employees — is yet another rework that poses logistical hurdles for lenders.
The change involves a program rule that could make a P.P.P. loan far more attractive to solo ventures that employ just the owner, like sole proprietorships and independent contractors. Previously, the aid program based the size of the loan on the annual profit these kinds of companies reported on their taxes. That made unprofitable businesses ineligible for aid and left thousands of other applicants with tiny loans — some as small as $1.
The new formula, which Small Business Administration officials said would be released soon, will focus instead on gross income. That calculation, which is made before many expenses are deducted, will make many more businesses eligible for loans and increase the size of the loans available to others.
In brief remarks on Monday afternoon, President Biden cast the shifts in the program as a salve for hard-hit business owners who have struggled to benefit from the government’s aid efforts thus far.
“Getting our economy back means bringing our small businesses back,” Mr. Biden said. He also called on Congress to pass his American Rescue Plan, which is on track to pass the House this week and includes $50 billion for hard-hit small businesses — though no additional money for P.P.P.
Mr. Biden said the program would still expire at the end of March, even with the two-week pause on applications for all but the smallest businesses, which will take effect on Wednesday.
Mr. Biden said the freeze would allow more government resources to be devoted to helping the kinds of small businesses that don’t have employees dedicated to navigating the loan process.
The current edition of the P.P.P. program was approved as part of December’s economic relief package, in which Congress allocated $284 billion to restart the aid program. Banks and other financiers, which make the government-backed loans, have disbursed $134 billion to 1.8 million businesses since lending resumed last month. The money is intended to be forgiven if recipients comply with the program’s rules.
Companies with up to 500 workers are generally eligible for the loans, although second-draw loans — available to those whose sales dropped 25 percent or more in at least one quarter since the coronavirus pandemic began — are limited to companies with 300 or fewer employees.
The agency is also changing several other program rules to expand eligibility. Those with recent felony convictions not tied to fraud will now be able to apply, as will those who are delinquent or in default on federal student loan debt. The agency also updated its guidance to clarify that business owners who are not United States citizens but lawful residents are eligible for loans.
The changes, Mr. Biden said, “will bring much-needed long overdue help to small businesses who really need help staying open, maintaining jobs and making ends meet, and this is a starting point, not the ending point.”
Two moderate Republicans announced Monday that they would not support the nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget, jeopardizing the prospects for confirmation in an evenly divided Senate.
In statements released early Monday morning and first obtained by Politico, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah said they would oppose Ms. Tanden’s opposition, citing hundreds of inflammatory, critical posts she had made on social media.
The margins for confirmation now appear all but insurmountable for Ms. Tanden, given that three senators in four days have announced their opposition. With Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, having already announced his intention to vote against the former Hillary Clinton adviser, President Biden needs the remainder of the Democratic caucus to support her nomination and at least two Republicans to endorse her.
One of many Republicans frequently targeted by Ms. Tanden on social media, Ms. Collins noted that “her past actions have demonstrated exactly the kind of animosity that President Biden has pledged to transcend.” And Ms. Tanden’s decision to delete more than a thousand tweets ahead of her confirmation hearings, she said, “raises concerns about her commitment to transparency.”
In a statement issued shortly after Ms. Collins, a spokeswoman for Mr. Romney said that the senator “believes it’s hard to return to comity and respect with a nominee who has issued a thousand mean tweets.”
After Mr. Manchin on Friday announced his intent to vote against her confirmation, Mr. Biden said he planned to move forward with the nomination. Following the statement from Ms. Collins, the White House indicated it planned to move forward with the confirmation process.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Monday that Mr. Biden continued to support Ms. Tanden’s nomination.
“Neera Tanden is an accomplished policy expert who would be an excellent budget director and we look forward to the committee votes this week and to continuing to work toward her confirmation through engagement with both parties,” Ms. Psaki said in a statement.
But it was unclear once Mr. Romney’s office issued his rebuke of Ms. Tanden whether the administration would continue to push for her confirmation.
At 1:09 p.m. on Jan. 6, minutes after protesters had burst through the barricades around the U.S. Capitol and began using the steel debris to assault the officers standing guard, the chief of the Capitol Police made a desperate call for backup. It took nearly two hours for officials to approve the deployment of the National Guard.
New details about what transpired over those 115 minutes on that dark, violent day — revealed in interviews and documents — tell a story of how chaotic decision-making among political and military leaders burned precious time as the rioting at the Capitol spiraled out of control.
Communication breakdowns, inaction and confusion over who had authority to call for the National Guard delayed a deployment of hundreds of troops who might have helped quell the violence that raged for hours.
This period is expected to be a focus of a congressional hearing on Tuesday, when lawmakers will publicly question Steven A. Sund, the Capitol Police chief at the time, and other current and former officials for the first time about the security failures that contributed to the violence on that day.
“Capitol security leaders must address the decision not to approve the National Guard request, failures in interagency coordination and information sharing, and how the threat intelligence they had ahead of Jan. 6 informed their security decisions leading up to that day,” said Senator Maggie Hassan, Democrat of New Hampshire.
Some American officials have said that by the time the urgent request came to the Pentagon on the afternoon of Jan. 6, it was long past the time National Guard troops could have deployed quickly enough to prevent the storming of the Capitol. But law enforcement officials pointed out that during a melee that lasted hours, every lost minute was critical.
Chief Sund did not hear back for 61 minutes after he called for help from the National Guard. And even then, there was a catch: Though Capitol security officials had approved his request, the Pentagon had the final say. During a tense phone call that began 18 minutes later, a top general said that he did not like the “visual” of the military guarding the Capitol and that he would recommend the Army secretary deny the request.
Pentagon approval finally came at 3:04 p.m. The first deployment of National Guard troops arrived at the Capitol two and a half hours later.
President Biden did not do anything alarming this weekend.
There were exactly eight tweets, each rooted in what can best be described as reality. There was a visit to spend time with an ailing friend, Bob Dole, the former Republican senator. And there was a stop at church with the grandchildren.
Since Mr. Biden assumed office, the weekends have been portraits of domesticity rather a what-happens next 48 hours of tension from which his predecessor (when not on the greens) would launch attacks, fire officials or lord over basic weekend cable.
Mr. Biden’s weekend agenda, thus far, has included MarioKart with the kids at Camp David, bagels in Georgetown and football in Delaware. A Peloton devotee, he hasn’t even played golf. Mr. Biden’s demonstrable disinterest in generating audacious headlines only emphasizes how much the Trump-size hole in Washington has created a sense of free time in all realms of the capital. Psychically, if not literally.
The only interruption, and he tried to avoid it, was an impeachment trial.
Though the workload remains (this is still Washington, after all) people are grabbing a few more hours of sleep in the span of time formerly known as the weekend.
“It was going from working 24/7 to sort of not working at all in a snap,” Representative Ted Lieu, Democrat of California. “And it did take awhile sort of for my body and mind to calm down.”
But first, binge-watching: The Sunday after the trial ended, Mr. Lieu spent his first Trump-free hours watching episodes of “Snowpiercer.”
Mr. Biden, who is focusing on his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, has said that he, too, wants to move on from discussing Mr. Trump. “I don’t want to talk about him anymore,” the president said during a CNN town hall in Wisconsin last week. The reality is a bit different. Mr. Biden has repeatedly brought up what he said are failings of the Trump administration as he sought to win patience from the public during the rollout of coronavirus vaccines.
There is a parallel in the news industry, where reporters covering this new-old version of Washington say they are ready to get back to the type of journalism that does not involve deciphering a human mood ring. CNN and MSNBC, whose journalists and personalities have spent years challenging Mr. Trump’s policies, have quietly reduced the number of Trump-focused journalists working on contract in recent months.
Mr. Trump has, of course, predicted that the political news complex will crumble without him. Members of that complex say they have some room to breathe and, crucially, to plan.
“As the host of a weekly show, the glaring absence of presidential Twitter scandals means I can plan ahead with the expectation that our plan will actually be implemented,” said Brian Stelter, who hosts “Reliable Sources” on CNN. “Informally, we used to leave a five-minute-size hole in my Sunday show, expecting some sort of big news to break on Saturday night. Now we don’t assume that’s going to happen anymore.”
Three months ago, federal lawmakers grilled Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, and Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief, about the misinformation that had appeared on their platforms. Now, a congressional committee has scheduled a hearing to focus on the role of companies that provide cable television service in the spread of falsehoods concerning the 2020 election.
In advance of the Wednesday hearing, called “Fanning the Flames: Disinformation and Extremism in the Media,” members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter on Monday to Comcast, AT&T, Spectrum, Dish, Verizon, Cox and Altice, asking about their role in “the spread of dangerous misinformation.”
The committee members also sent the letter to Roku, Amazon, Apple, Google and Hulu, digital companies that distribute cable programming.
The scrutiny of cable providers took on new urgency after supporters of former President Donald J. Trump, who repeatedly promoted the debunked claim that the election was rigged, stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“To our knowledge, the cable, satellite and over-the-top companies that disseminate these media outlets to American viewers have done nothing in response to the misinformation aired by these outlets,” two Democratic representatives from California, Anna G. Eshoo and Jerry McNerney, wrote in the letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times.
None of the companies to which the letter was sent immediately replied to requests for comment.
Newsmax, a right-wing cable channel carried by AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Dish and Verizon, had a surge in ratings in November because of programs that embraced the former president’s claims of voter fraud. One America News Network, a right-wing outlet carried by AT&T, CenturyLink and Verizon, also promoted the false theory.
Fox News, the most-watched cable news network, which is available from all major carriers, was one of five defendants in a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit filed this month by the election technology company Smartmatic. In the suit, the company accused Fox News, its parent company Fox Corporation, three Fox anchors and two frequent Fox guests of promoting false claims about the election and Smartmatic’s role in it. (Fox has denied the claims and filed a motion to dismiss the suit.)
Congress can raise the issue of whether cable providers bear responsibility for the programs they deliver to millions of Americans, but it may have no way to force them to drop networks that have spread misinformation. And unlike broadcast stations, cable channels do not have licenses that are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.
The lawmakers’ letter asks the companies, “What steps did you take prior to, on, and following the November 3, 2020 elections and the January 6, 2021 attacks to monitor, respond to, and reduce the spread of disinformation, including encouragement or incitement of violence by channels your company disseminates to millions of Americans?”