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AG nominee Merrick Garland: Prosecuting Capitol attackers, plotters will be priority

The appellate court judge also said there is legal room for new gun control reform policies from the Biden administration.

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AG nominee Merrick Garland: Prosecuting Capitol attackers, plotters will be priority
Judge Merrick Garland is sworn-in Monday before testifying before his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. Attorney General, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Pool Photo by Demetrius Freeman/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 22 (UPI) -- At the first day of his Senate confirmation hearings Monday, U.S. Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland gave a rough outline of some of the things he'd do as the nation's top law enforcement officer -- from prosecuting those who attacked the Capitol last month to weighing federal gun reform policies.

Garland, a former federal prosecutor before becoming a judge on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., appeared before the Senate judiciary committee for questioning.

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During his testimony, Garland said that overseeing prosecution for supporters of former President Donald Trump who were instrumental in attacking the Capitol will be his initial priority.

"If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 -- a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government," Garland said in his opening statement.

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"The attorney general takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies -- foreign and domestic."

Garland added that prosecution likely won't be limited to those who physically attacked the building, but could also include fundraisers and other organizers for the rally that turned into an assault.

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"We will pursue these leads, wherever they take us," he said.

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Garland, who was nominated as a Supreme Court justice by former President Barack Obama five years ago, also said the Justice Department could be open to new policies on federal-level gun control reforms.

"The president is a strong supporter of gun control and has been an advocate all of his professional life on this question," he said when questioned by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. "The role of the Justice Department is to advance the policy program of the administration as long as it is consistent with the law."

Garland also made clear Monday that his Justice Department will take seriously racial and social inequality.

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He said statistics are clear that Black Americans and other people of color are treated differently by the justice system, and that all should be treated equally.

Garland echoed Biden's stance of not supporting the movement to "defund" police. He did say, though, that he supports more mental health support and enhanced social services so police officers are used less in instances of suicide and mental health calls.

He also said he's concerned about the upswing in violent crime in some of the country's largest cities and will strengthen the Justice Department's role in addressing the problem.

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Garland stressed at Monday's hearing that the department, under his leadership, would not be politicized -- a constant criticism that many lobbed at Trump during his four years in office.

"The president made abundantly clear in every public statement before and after my nomination that the decisions about investigations and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department," Garland said. "That was the reason that I was willing to take on this job."

Garland is expected to win bipartisan support to win confirmation. The judiciary committee will hold a second day of hearings Tuesday.

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Capitol Hill police salute the passing of the funeral hearse on Sunday for slain Officer Brian Sicknick, who died in the rioting at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo

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