Joe Biden’s relationship with his attorney general, Merrick Garland, is so icy it is ‘in the deep freeze’, according to a report on Saturday.
Biden and his aides are infuriated by Garland’s decision to appoint special counsels to investigate both Biden’s handling of classified documents, and his son Hunter’s business affairs. They told The Wall Street Journal that Garland was seen as going too far in his effort to appear independent from Biden, who appointed him.
But Garland’s aides told the paper that the widely-respected, low-key official was simply trying to stop any suspicion that Biden was influencing his decisions.
Biden, 80, stressed repeatedly in his hiring of Garland, 70, that he was choosing someone with integrity and independence.
Joe Biden is seen listening to his attorney general, Merrick Garland, speak in June 2021. Relations between the two men are now said to be in the ‘deep freeze’
Biden’s aides feel that Garland has mishandled the investigation into the president’s son, Hunter
Determined to differentiate himself from Donald Trump, who repeatedly lent on his two attorney generals – Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr, Biden vowed that he would not interfere in Garland’s work.
‘The past four years we’ve had a president who’s made his contempt for our democracy, our Constitution, the rule of law, clear in everything he has done,’ said Biden in January 2021, naming his Cabinet as president-elect.
‘More than anything, we need to restore the honor, the integrity, the independence of the Department of Justice that’s been so badly damaged.’
As he ushered Garland onto the stage, he told him: ‘You don’t work for me.’
Yet now that very independence is proving problematic, sources told the paper.
Biden’s aides noted that prosecutors have already closed their investigation into former vice president Mike Pence’s handling of classified documents, after papers were found at his Indiana home.
Pence’s papers were found in the same month that documents were located at Biden’s Delaware home: both Biden and Pence handed over the documents to the authorities, and declared the discovery themselves – unlike Trump.
But Biden’s case has now been referred to a special counsel, the aides pointed out.
Biden and Garland are seen at the White House in May 2022. The two men are said to be extremely distant with one another
Biden, seen leaving church in Delaware on Saturday, has been angered by both the investigation into his handling of classified documents, and the inquiry into his son
And a lawyer for Hunter Biden – who on Thursday was federally indicted on charges of lying about his drug use on a gun permit – accused Garland of being biased against the Bidens.
The lawyer said the decisions to appoint a special counsel and indict Hunter, after he had agreed to a plea deal, showed ‘partisan interference in this process.’
Some Biden aides felt that Garland should have done more in response to an IRS whistleblower, Gary Shapley, who claimed publicly that the Justice Department was interfering in an investigation into Hunter Biden’s business and tax affairs.
Biden’s aides believed Shapley’s approach to Republican members of Congress, telling them he had concerns, was improper leaking of information.
Garland worked as a senior official at the Justice Department under Bill Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, who angered Clinton by launching an investigation that ultimately led to the revelations of his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
‘Merrick comes from exactly the same school,’ said a former department official who worked with both Reno and Garland.
‘They both believe very strongly in the independent and nonpolitical nature of the department, which is good for the department, but not always so good for the attorney general’s relationship with the president.’
Bill Clinton was famously irritated by the actions of his attorney general, Janet Reno. The pair are seen together in July 1993
Barack Obama is seen with his attorney general, Eric Holder, in May 2013
Trump was publicly critical of Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, pictured in the White House in February 2017
Trump was also brutal in his verdict on his second attorney general, Bill Barr
Barack Obama, conversely, was criticized for being too close to his attorney general, Eric Holder.
Trump, however, was famously combative with his, publicly criticizing them and weighing in on their decisions.
‘Attorneys general should be sympathetic to the goals of the administration but shouldn’t be too close personally to the president,’ said Bill Barr, Trump’s last attorney general.
And Barr told The Wall Street Journal it was a thankless task.
‘There’s no escaping,’ he said.
‘The attorney general has to own these decisions in high-profile cases. He can’t say, ‘Well, I just left it up to someone else.’
Garland’s spokesman declined to comment.
White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton said Biden appointed Garland ‘because of his decades of fidelity to the rule of law consistent with his commitment when he ran for president to restore the independence of the Justice Department, free from political interference.’