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Attorney General nominee Garland says politics won't influence criminal probes – National Post

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s attorney general nominee, Merrick Garland, vowed on Monday to protect the integrity of the Justice Department from partisan influence, in an effort to restore confidence after President Donald Trump repeatedly sought to bend the department to his will.

Trump, a Republican who lost to Biden in November, for years attacked Justice Department investigations of his 2016 campaign and Russian election interference as a “witch hunt” or a “hoax.”

Garland, in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, also vowed to make the investigation of the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol a top priority.

The next attorney general will inherit a few investigations that began during the Trump administration of the origin of those probes and also of Hunter Biden, the new president’s son.

“I would not have taken this job if I had thought politics would have any influence over prosecutions or investigations,” Garland told the panel.

“The president has promised that those decisions will only be made by the attorney general, and that is what I plan to do. I do not plan to be interfered with by anyone. I expect the Justice Department will make its own decisions in this regard.”

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Garland’s promises marked a contrast from previous Attorney General William Barr, who was criticized for his willingness to intervene in criminal cases in ways that benefited Trump’s political allies, from Michael Flynn to Roger Stone.

Garland pledged to sit down with department staff, who have suffered from low morale for the past four years amid partisan attacks and accusations by Trump they were part of a “deep state.”

“I want to make clear to the career prosecutors…that my job is to protect them from partisan or other improper motives,” Garland said, adding that for now his visits with them will need to be over Zoom due to the pandemic.

Garland, a federal appellate judge and former prosecutor, is widely expected to be confirmed as the nation’s top U.S. law enforcement official.

He was nominated to lead a Justice Department in the midst of intensive investigations into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters – an incident Garland called “heinous.”

Some of the more than 200 people arrested in the siege were associated with groups such as the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, underscoring rising concern about future violence from right-wing extremists.

Garland has experience in tackling such threats, having managed the sprawling investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by anti-government extremists and supervising the prosecution of the so-called Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski after a deadly bombing spree.

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Garland told the committee he fears the Jan.6 riots were “not necessarily a one-off” and vowed to devote resources to the probe.

“We must do everything in the power of the Justice Department to prevent this kind of interference with policies of American democratic institutions,” Garland said.

Garland’s pledge to maintain the independence of Justice Department investigations will also encompass ongoing cases that may cast members of Biden’s family or former Obama officials in an unfavorable light.

Amid questioning by Republicans, Garland said he had not discussed the Justice Department’s investigation into Hunter Biden’s taxes with the White House.

Biden has made clear that decisions about investigations and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department, Garland told lawmakers. “So the answer to your question is no.”

He told Republicans he expects to allow John Durham, who was appointed by Barr to investigate the origins of the investigation into Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, to continue his work.

“I understand that he has been permitted to remain in his position and sitting here today I have no reason to think that that was not the correct decision,” Garland said.

EQUAL JUSTICE FOR ALL?

Apart from the Justice Department’s focus on combating domestic terrorism, Garland said he intends to prioritize enforcing the civil rights laws, an area advocates say was decimated during the Trump administration.

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The Justice Department has faced pressure to take steps to hold police departments accountable for civil rights violations, after a white police officer killed African American George Floyd last year in Minneapolis.

The killing sparked nationwide protests, but those did little to motivate the Justice Department to open probes into systemic police misconduct or other civil rights violations.

Unlike Barr, who told Congress last year he did not believe systemic racism plagued the criminal justice system, Garland was unequivocal on whether the system treats Americans equally.

“Sadly, and it’s plain to me that that is not, that it does not,” Garland said in response to Democratic Senator Cory Booker.

Garland said he would resume using court-ordered consent decrees to hold police departments accountable, a tool largely abandoned during the Trump administration.

He also told Congress his support for the death penalty has eroded amid concerns it disproportionately affects Black Americans and other communities of color and that too many are wrongfully convicted. He stopped short of saying whether he will advocate for commuting all federal death sentences.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Will Dunham and Alistair Bell)

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Caballeros are right to stay out of politics – Santa Fe New Mexican

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My compliments and support for the recent decision of the Caballeros de Vargas to abstain from local politics.

I am an Anglo and not a Roman Catholic, but consider Santa Fe my home, my community. It is where I feel a connection with the Earth, with fellow human beings, with life itself. Compassion, respect, coexistence, hospitality to the stranger; these are all values that I see as a part of the history of the Santa Fe community. I see these values being reflected in how the Caballeros honor La Conquistadora, Our Lady of Peace, the Virgin Mary statue so central to the city’s history.

I used to feel that one did not need to be a Hispanic Catholic of Santa Fe heritage to be a contributing member of the community, as long as you recognized and supported these values. Unfortunately, the last several years I have seen communications by, and received from, members of the community that made me feel that not being of “Spanish” heritage in New Mexico, I was not welcomed in the community. I thought there was a rich, historic heritage of different opinions being welcomed here, to be civilly debated, as long as the focus was on what was best for the community, the people, the land. One’s history and experiences give each of us a different perspective. It is that blend of views and ideas that can generate healthy change, while preserving these historic values of the community.

The history of La Conquistadora and of Don Diego de Vargas should not be forgotten. But history is messy and complicated, a reflection of human life. Mistakes, errors in judgment, happen. New knowledge of the past is learned. But, if the focus is on reverence of life and support of the community, no matter if community is defined locally or worldwide, then one’s actions should be respected.

Fiesta de Santa Fe, and the role of Los Caballeros in it, is a time to celebrate the rich and diverse history of Santa Fe. All of the history, good and bad. A time to give thanks for life, for harvest, for family, for my fellow citizens, my fellow human beings. Making it exclusive to only certain people does not reflect the values being celebrated.

La Conquistadora, Our Lady of Peace, may not be part of my personal faith or cultural heritage. But her values have captured my heart. I will always honor her and those who reflect the community values I feel she represents. I am glad the Caballeros will continue to honor and reflect those values and have chosen to not become part of the current visceral and vindictive local politics.

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Politics Chat: Vaccination Rates Grow In Some Conservative States – NPR

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Despite political polarization, a growing number of people in some conservative states are getting vaccinated. Partisans still disagree about the January 6 attack on Congress.

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Week In Politics: Republicans Urge Vaccine Hesitant Citizens To Get The Shot – NPR

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Republican leaders urge the unvaccinated to roll up their sleeves; Plus, increased pressure is for infrastructure talks.

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