Speaker 1: No attorney general of the United States has ever had what you'd call an easy job, but Merrick Garland's brief is maybe something else. Donald Trump tried his hardest to make the justice department into his personal legal team, so Garland now has to re-establish independence at the agency, but he can't exactly avoid politics. He has to decide, for example, how to prosecute the January 6 riders who try to overturn the election results. He also has to figure out how prosecutors should handle Trump officials who may have broken the law. He can hardly avoid the current legal battle over abortion that's engulfed the country. Merrick Garland spoke with the New Yorker's Jane Mayer last week as part of the New Yorker festival.
Jane Mayer: You've been in this job now for more than six months, after having spent 25 years at your previous job, how do you like it? How does it compare?
Merrick Garland: You're right, I seem to spend a long time in my jobs. I think we can be assured I will not be spending 25 years in this one. One of the things I gave up was life tenure. I loved being a judge. I really did. I love this job as well. There are definitely differences. Some of the advantages of this are, I no longer am barred from issuing advisory opinions, which I could not do as a judge. Now I could do six advisory opinions before breakfast, nobody stops me. The other thing and quite important is that in the previous job I had to wait until an important case or even an interesting case came before me. Now, if I read something in the New Yorker online in the morning, and it strikes me as the government's doing something wrong, or the country's doing something wrong, or somebody's should be protected, I can do something about it, and sometimes by the end of the day. There's a good things, there are some disadvantages like that I'm on the wrong side of lawsuits, the wrong side of the V, my name I miss my judicial immunity.
Jane Mayer: You're being sued like basically every day.
Merrick Garland: I get sued quite a lot. In the end, judges and the attorney general have the same bottom line requirement, we're obligated to uphold the rule of law and to be sure that equal justice under law is done. In those ways the jobs are very similar.
Jane Mayer: Listening to you talk about how you miss immunity brings up something we would all like. It is actually something that the former president said that he had while he was in office. One of the first questions I had for you was because the Twitterverse is very much alive with people who were on fire about the need to go after the former president and hold him accountable for that he did in office when he wasn't office now that he's out. It's not just the Twitterverse, there are a number of critics and even your former law professor, Lawrence [unintelligible 00:03:09], a column, and he said that he thought that Trump should be prosecuted for his role in setting off the insurrection, and that he should be prosecuted for inciting insurrection and seditious conspiracy.
Now, I know that you can't really talk about cases that are ongoing, but it did make me wonder whether you worry that by going after the foot soldiers and not the commander-in-chief, there may be a dangerous message being sent that there's no accountability in high places and that others may try to copy what happened before on January 6th. How do you see that issue?
Merrick Garland: Like I've said many times before, January 6th was a heinous event, which almost interfered with the cornerstone of our democracy, which is the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another. We have taken actions commensurate with how important this act was. We have every US attorney's office in the country, we have every FBI office, I think except maybe Puerto Rico has been involved in investigating this and making arrests. We've brought in US attorneys from all over the country to be detailed to the US attorney's office in Washington, which is the center of our investigation. We've already charged more than 600 people. We've gotten terabytes of information from citizens sluice all over the country who've noticed someone that they recognize or have been able to match with other pictures.
We are doing everything we can to ensure that the perpetrators of January 6th are brought to justice. My very first thing that I did when I came to the justice department, very first day, was to go to the US attorney's office in DC to discuss where the investigation is and where it's going. Every single week, I get briefed by the FBI director, the deputy attorney general as to where this investigation is going, we will follow the facts and the law wherever they lead. As you're quite right, I'm not able to talk about any particular individuals or particular investigations. There's a long standing policy of the justice department. It's an element of the rule of law. It's very good reason why we follow that policy.
Jane Mayer: What we do, if there's criticism that too many of the foot soldiers are being prosecuted, and maybe there's actually also been some criticism, even from a couple of judges that the charges being brought against them are misdemeanors, and maybe not as serious as they could be. What would you say to people who were making those criticisms?
Merrick Garland: The prosecutors involved in this case are making determinations in every case about what charge fits the offense, what charge fits the law. I am quite aware that there are people who are criticizing us for not prosecuting sufficiently and others who are complaining that we are prosecuting too harshly. This is a part of the territory for any prosecutor in any case. I have great confidence in the prosecutors who are doing these cases, they are committed to pursuing them until they find an answer, and to making sure that the prosecution's charges and ultimate sentences fit the offenses.
Jane Mayer: I wanted to ask you about another subject that I know that has been really important to you, which is voting rights and elections. You've made I t1hink a very impassioned speech about the importance of voting rights, and shown that you want to make this a priority to defend them. Yet the Supreme court's been cutting off, it seems like every avenue to enforce the Voting Rights Act. I wonder what really can the justice department do to ensure voting rights, to fight voter suppression, and to also fight election subversion, which is what people are beginning to talk about more as a threat moving forward.
Merrick Garland: I do feel deeply impassioned about this. This was the purpose of the justice department founded during reconstruction by president Grant for the purpose of protecting the right to vote of African-Americans in the south during your construction. The Voting Rights Act in 1965 was maybe the most important piece of legislation to ensure that there would not be discrimination in procedures and practices involving voting. That act gave the justice department powers particularly section five, which required a pre-clearance of changes in coverage jurisdictions of practices and procedures.
Now you are right that in the Shelby county case, the Supreme court effectively eliminated section five, throwing us back to where we were before the Voting Rights Act with respect to the requirement to go after individual cases. We're left with section two questions which also prohibit violations discriminatory procedures in that regard then in the burn of edge case, the Supreme court, again, narrowed what we have under section two.
The premise of your question, which is, are tools weakened, yes, they are, but our passion hasn't weakened the voting rights section and the justice and the civil rights division as a whole. It was greatly depleted and previously when I got here. One of the first things we did was insist upon doubling the size of the voting section that we have. We will and have used section two, to bring actions, this is what we did in Georgia. We are seriously and urgently investigating and examining other changes in procedures and practices, and particularly looking at all the redistricting that's done as a consequence of the decennial census. Again, I think we need Congress to help here. We need a change. We need a legislation to give us back authorities that we need in order to do this.
Jane Mayer: Into another a hot topic of the topic of abortion. The justice department weighed in on the Texas state law, SB8. It was clearly crafted with the intention of avoiding judicial review, and yet you jumped in, and I'm just curious, how did you see that issue and why do you think it was important for the DOJ to get in there?
Merrick Garland: I think we've sought in the way, the premise of your question put it, our job at the Justice Department is to protect the constitution and protect the constitutional rights of Americans. They've deputized any person in the United States whether they're in Texas or not, whether they have any relationship with the woman or not whether they have any injury or other connection or not, to bring a case when that Texas law is violated or is tempted to be violated and receive at least $10,000 in bounty. This is not only obvious Lee intended, but expressly intended to prevent judicial review of an unconstitutional statute and because clinics are not willing to risk or are able to risk the financial costs that will occur if they go forward, they have stopped providing services. Women are both unable to get services and unable to get judicial review of an unconstitutional statute at the time they need the services.
Every American should be worried about this regardless of your party, and regardless of your politics because this can easily be a model for any constitutional right, not just the right we're talking about. It can be pursued by any state and not just Texas and it doesn't take long to think about what the consequences for American democracy are if states start deputizing private bounty hunters to prevent citizens from exercising their constitutional rights. When the Supreme Court declined to stop the case, and the private case was brought, we felt it was our obligation to jump in immediately afterwards, it was a week afterwards and to bring our own case.
Jane Mayer: Are you fairly confident you'll win on this?
Merrick Garland: We are confident. We brought a case that is well established in the law. We brought the case directly against Texas, and against its officers including judges, and including against anyone who is purporting to be deputized on behalf of the state and we believe that is well-founded in the law.
Jane Mayer: There is another area that I think that I gather is something that you care a lot about and that is the anti-trust area. I wanted to ask you about that. I read that anti-trust was your favorite subject in law school, it sounds very dry but I guess I'd love to know why and I think what many people want to know is at this point, there's a growing feeling of concern worry about the power of the big tech companies in this country and people are trying to figure out what to do about that and I wonder if specifically if you see the big tech sector is in your sights, or in the sights of the antitrust division basically?
Merrick Garland: Well you're right, I have said it was my first love in law school, I think because I had a great industrial organization economics professor in my last year in college and because I worked for some really great antitrust giants both in my legal practice in the Justice Department and then in law school. When I came in, justice was the case in the Civil Rights Division, the antitrust division was seriously depleted in terms of resources and personnel. The first thing we did and in our request to the Congress for the FY22 budget is to greatly increase the budget and particularly with respect to personnel, we hope to increase the division by 90 personnel.
Jane Mayer: You're adding 90 people to the antitrust division?
Merrick Garland: If we get the money from the Congress yes.
Jane Mayer: Are they likely to support that?
Merrick Garland: Yes, I think so. I think they are-- I spoke at the budget hearing, I was attacked for many things, but not for that suggestion.
Jane Mayer: There's bipartisan support to some extent for some of this, isn't there?
Merrick Garland: I think there is and we've been off to pretty to a really strong start. If you asked about big tech, we have the Google case which was begun in the previous administrations being aggressively followed in this administration. We've been working on stopping mergers that would foreclose competition. We've succeeded in stopping a merger of two of the three largest insurance brokerages.We just filed against what I call a quasi-merger between American Airlines and JetBlue. We've brought both civil and criminal cases in efforts of companies to foreclose wage competition and allocate markets with respect to the labor market. We have ongoing matters involving everything from agriculture to banking, to real estate. The antitrust division is energized and eager to go forward and we do think that ensuring fair competition is the central element of our obligation to ensure that justice is done.
Jane Mayer: Thank you, Mr. Attorney General, so much for giving us your time.
Merrick Garland: Great to be with you, thanks.
Speaker 1: Attorney General Merrick Garland speaking with staff writer Jane Mayer at the New Yorker festival last week. Now an important update. After they spoke after the interview, the federal judge issued a ruling that temporarily blocks the Texas abortion law and that's in response to the suit brought by the Department of Justice. Garland called that a victory for women in Texas and for the rule of law in the state of Texas is appeal. You can find out more about the New Yorker festival at newyorker.com/festival.
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