Roundup: U.S. Senate panel wraps up first day of Biden AG nominee confirmation hearing

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WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday wrapped up the first day of the confirmation hearing for President Joe Biden's nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland, who testified about issues ranging from the Capitol riot and judicial independence to the former administration's controversial immigration policies and inequality in the country's justice system.

Garland, who is the former chief judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals, said getting briefed on the ongoing investigation into the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill by supporters of former President Donald Trump will be "one of the very first things" he will do after being confirmed to lead the Justice Department. He called the insurrection the "most heinous attack on the democratic processes."

"I can assure you that this would be my first priority and my first briefing when I return to the department if I am confirmed," the 68-year-old told the senators grilling him for six hours, saying the country faced "a more dangerous period" from domestic extremists than at the time of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The Justice Department's investigation into the bombing was led by Garland.

Nominated by then President Barack Obama for Supreme Court justice in 2016 but whose hearing was denied by the then Republican-controlled Senate citing proximity to the presidential election that year, Garland vowed to protect the Justice Department against political interference.

"The department, if I am confirmed, will be under my protection for the purpose of preventing any kind of partisan or other improper motive in making any kind of investigation or prosecution," he said.

When pressed to comment on two politically charged investigations during the Trump era, Garland said that he hadn't spoken with Biden about a case involving the federal tax records of the president's son, Hunter Biden, and that he would have to talk with special counsel John Durham to understand the nature of the investigation into the Trump-Russia tie during the 2016 election led by Durham.

He added that "decisions about investigations and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department," during a round of questioning about the Hunter Biden case.

Garland also harshly criticized the Trump administration's policy to separate immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, calling the policy "shameful."

"I can't imagine anything worse than separating parents from their children. And we will provide all of the cooperation that we possibly can," he said.

The nominee vowed to reinvigorate the Justice Department's civil rights division. The mission to secure civil rights for Americans "remains urgent because we do not yet have equal justice," Garland said. "Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system."

Garland's two-day confirmation hearing will resume Tuesday, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin indicated that the committee will confirm the nomination next Monday. He expected the full Senate to confirm Garland later next week. Enditem

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