Attorney General Merrick Garland was flustered and evasive in the face of Josh Hawley’s (R-MO) barrage of questions over the FBI’s infamous August Mar-a-Lago raid. The encounter even lead to Mr. Garland incorrectly assuring that Senator Hawley was misquoting an article that contain revelations that some senior FBI agents were uncomfortable and disagreed with the raid decision. The dispute between the two men and Garland’s evasive ramblings led Mr. Hawley to thunder in the end, “I am asking you my question! Answer my question based on this evidence! Don’t dissemble, Attorney General!”
The exchange between the two men opened with Senator Hawley noting Mr. Garland’s previous testimony that he tended to differ many decisions to FBI agents in the field. Mr. Hawley then mentioned that an article in the Washington Post revealed Garland in effect overruled dissenting agents in the field and signed off on the raid. Hawley then quoted from the aforementioned article that detailed how two senior FBI agents who were in charge of the raid thought it would be better to get President Trump’s permission to investigate his property and how some agents thought the probe into Trump should be closed.
The relevant portions of the article in the Washington Post itself read, “[b]ut two senior FBI officials who would be in charge of leading the search resisted the plan as too combative and proposed instead to seek Trump’s permission to search his property, according to the four people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a sensitive investigation…Starting in May, FBI agents in the Washington field office had sought to slow the probe, urging caution given its extraordinary sensitivity, the people said.”
The article further noted that “[s]ome of those field agents wanted to shutter the criminal investigation altogether in early June, after Trump’s legal team asserted a diligent search had been conducted and all classified records had been turned over, according to some people with knowledge of the discussions. The idea of closing the probe was not something that was discussed or considered by FBI leadership and would not have been approved, a senior law enforcement official said.”
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The Republican lawmaker then inquired how often Garland overruled his field officers for political purposes. Garland then mentioned that he had “skimmed that article…That it is not an accurate reflection of what the article says.” Mr. Hawley then read the relevant portions of the article verbatim. In response, Garland evaded by saying that he was not able to comment on the ongoing investigation but said that in general there is “often a robust discussion…and then a decision is made.”
The senator agreed with that remark saying that Garland made the decision. Garland awkwardly denied this charge and pivoted by saying “I approved the decision [to seek the search warrant leading to the raid].” Indeed, Mr. Garland in his own words back in August did “personally approve the decision to seek a search warrant” and that without this decision the raid would have not materialized.
The senator fired back by noting that this act was at odds with and overruled any dissenting assessments by field agents. Mr. Garland then repeated that the article that Hawley quoted does not say what the Republican maintains it says. He then said, “I am not able to describe this in any further detail.”
Hawley disagreed and says it is plain for anyone who reads it that there were field agents who did not want to conduct the raid. Instead, they were overruled by Garland’s Department of Justice. The Republican senator commented that these leaks to the press were clear evidence that many in the agency wanted to distance themselves from Mr. Garland.