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Attorney General Merrick Garland discusses the process behind Trump, Hunter Biden prosecutions

AG Merrick Garland: The 60 Minutes Interview
Attorney General Merrick Garland: The 60 Minutes Interview 13:43

Attorney General Merrick Garland discussed the process behind the federal prosecutions of former President Donald Trump, and explained that the investigation itself determines the timing, disputing allegations they were timed to be detrimental to the former president's reelection campaign.

Garland explained the process of the timing of the prosecutions of Trump to correspondent Scott Pelley in a 60 Minutes interview that aired this week. "Justice Department prosecutors are nonpartisan. They don't allow partisan considerations to play any role in their determinations."

Trump faces two federal trials. One for allegedly hoarding classified documents and covering it up, the other, for allegedly conspiring to seize power after the 2020 election.

"Prosecutors, special counsel they follow the facts and the law where they lead," Garland said. "When they've gotten the amount of evidence necessary to make a charging decision and they've decided that a charge is warranted, that's when they bring their cases."

"The investigation itself has determined the timing?" Pelley asked.

"Yes. Exactly right," Garland said.

Garland on President Biden, Hunter Biden special counsel cases

Separately, President Biden is the subject of a special counsel investigation looking into whether he improperly held classified documents after he was vice president. President Biden's son, Hunter, is also the target of a four-year investigation into his taxes and business deals. He's been indicted for lying about drug abuse when he bought a gun. Republicans accuse the prosecutor, Special Counsel David Weiss, of slow walking the investigation.

"The allegation is, Mr. Attorney General, that what is described in some quarters as the Biden Justice Department is taking it easy on the president's son," Pelley told Garland.

"Well, look. This investigation began under David Weiss," Garland said. "David Weiss is a longstanding career prosecutor, and he was appointed by Mr. Trump as the United States attorney for the district of Delaware. I promised at my nomination hearing that I would continue him on in that position and that I would not interfere with his investigation."

Garland has committed to giving Weiss whatever he needs for his investigation and explained that neither he, nor the White House, has attempted to influence the special counsel. Garland offered the same sentiment while testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in September.

"I am not the president's lawyer," Garland said then. "I will add, I am not Congress' prosecutor."

Garland's relationships with President Biden, Jack Smith

The prosecutor in the Trump cases is Jack Smith. He was named by Garland to be special counsel – that's a job under the regulations of the Justice Department designed to give Smith independence from the Department and the White House. 

"The most important aspect of the regulations is that the special counsel is not subject to the day-to-day supervision of anyone in the Justice Department," Garland told Pelley.

"You are not in communication with the president or any member of his administration with regard to the investigation of former President Trump?" Pelley asked.

"No, I am not," Garland said.

"If President Biden asked you to take action with regard to the Trump investigation," Pelley asked, "what would your reaction be?"

"I am sure that that will not happen, but I would not do anything in that regard," Garland said. "And if necessary, I would resign. But there is no sense that anything like that will happen."

"Have you ever had to tell him," Pelley asked. "'Hands off these investigations, Mr. President?'"

"No," Garland said, "because he has never tried to put hands on these investigations."

"How's your relationship with the president?" Pelley asked. "It must be frosty."

"I have a good working relationship with the president," Garland said.

Good, perhaps, but maybe not close. The president addressed their relationship during an August White House event,when he spotted Garland. 

"Attorney General Garland, I haven't seen you in a long while, good to see you," Biden said. "You think I'm kidding, I'm not."

 Garland on independence of special counsel investigations

The Attorney General would not discuss the specifics of the Department of Justice's investigations into former President Donald Trump or President Biden's son, Hunter, during his interview with 60 Minutes, a decision based on a long-time Department rule. 

"I think the first thing to understand is because these are pending cases," Garland told Pelley, "because there are two federal indictments, the longstanding rule in the Justice Department is that we can't comment about pending cases."

"Where does that rule come from?" Pelley asked. "What's the point?"

"One reason is protecting the privacy and the civil liberties of the person who's under investigation," Garland said. "It's to protect witnesses who also may or may not become public later in an investigation. And then finally, it's to protect the investigation itself. Investigations proceed in many different directions, eventually coming to a fruition, a decision to charge or not charge a particular thing or not. And if witnesses and potential subjects knew everything that the investigators had previously looked at and were about to look at, it could well change testimony. It could well make witnesses unavailable to us."

"And this is not peculiar to the Trump investigations?" Pelley asked.

"This is the rule for all investigations," Garland said. "This is part of what we call our Justice manual. It's been there for probably at least 30 years and probably longer than that."

"Are you essentially saying," Pelley asked, "as attorney general to the American people, 'Trust me?'"

"In the end, I suppose it does in the end come down to trust," Garland said. "But it's not just me. It's decades of the-- of the norms of this department that are part of the DNA of the career prosecutors who are running the investigation and supervising the investigations that you're talking about."

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