The Incredible Shrinking Merrick Garland




Below is my column in USA Today on the diminishing role of Attorney General Merrick Garland at the Justice Department after a series of controversies. As a well-known moderate, many of us had hoped that Garland could be a unifying presence at the Department; assuring a divided nation that justice would be pursued in an even-handed and apolitical fashion. Yet, in controversy after controversy, Garland has failed to take modest steps to make such assurances. After well documented cases of bias and false statements by FBI and DOJ officials in past investigations, there was a clear need for greater transparency and independence in investigations. Garland has consistently swatted away such options. This week, Garland stayed on that path and refused to release any part of the affidavit used as the basis for the search of Mar-a-Lago. This included the possible issuance of a redacted copy or even responses to specific concerns over the timing or basis for the search. While Trump has called for the release of the affidavit, Garland will not even release those sections dealing with the account of the prior discussions and agreements with the Team Trump. There is little proactive effort to anticipate or address such concerns as vividly shown in the last week.

Here is the column:

In the cult classic, “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” the character Scott Stuart is caught in a thick fog that causes him to gradually shrink to the point that he lives in a doll house and fights off the house cat. At one point, Stuart delivers a strikingly profound line: “The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet — like the closing of a gigantic circle.”

If one image sums up the incredibly shrinking stature of Attorney General Merrick Garland, it is that line in the aftermath of the Mar-a-Lago search.

Two years ago, I was one of many who supported Garland when he was nominated for attorney general. While his personality seemed a better fit for the courts than the Cabinet, he is a person with unimpeachable integrity and ethics.

If there are now doubts, it is not about his character but his personality in dealing with political controversies. Those concerns have grown in the past week.

In the aftermath of the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s home in Florida, much remains unclear. The inventory list confirms that there were documents marked TS (Top Secret) and SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information) —two of the highest classification levels for materials. The former president’s retention of such documents would appear to be a very serious violation.

However, the status of the documents is uncertain after Trump insisted that he declassified the material and was handling the records in accordance with prior discussions with the FBI. While the declassified status of these documents would not bar charges under the cited criminal provisions, it could have a significant impact on the viability of any prosecution.

I have not assumed that the search of Mar-a-Lago was unwarranted given that we have not seen the underlying affidavit. Yet in another controversy, Garland seemed largely reactive and rote in dealing with questions over bias or abuse in his department.

In his confirmation hearing, Garland repeatedly pledged that political considerations would hold no sway with him as attorney general. Yet, in just two years, the Justice Department has careened from one political controversy to another without any sign that Garland is firmly in control of the department. Last year, for example, Garland was heavily criticized for his rapid deployment of a task force to investigate parents and others challenging school boards.

When Garland has faced clear demands for independent action, he has folded. For example, Garland has refused to appoint a special counsel in the investigation of Hunter Biden. But there is no way to investigate Hunter Biden without running over continual references to President Biden.

By refusing a special counsel, Garland has removed the president’s greatest threat. Unlike the U.S. Attorney investigating Hunter Biden, a special counsel would be expected to publish a report that would detail the scope of the Biden family’s alleged influence peddling and foreign contacts.

Likewise, the Justice Department is conducting a grand jury investigation that is aggressively pursuing Trump associates and Republican figures, including seizing the telephones of members of Congress. That investigation has bearing on the integrity and the status of Biden’s potential opponent in 2024.

The investigation also has triggered concerns over the party in power investigating the opposing political party. It is breathtaking that Garland would see no need for an independent or special counsel given this country’s continued deep divisions and mistrust.

Democrats often compare the January 6 investigation to Watergate but fail to note that the Watergate investigation was led by an independent counsel precisely because of these inherent political conflicts.

Then came the raid. While Garland said he personally approved the operation, he did little to help mitigate the inevitable political explosion. This country is a powder keg and the FBI has a documented history of false statements to courts and falsified evidence in support of a previous Trump investigation.

Yet, there was no prepared statement or response for days, which allowed speculation and rage to grow. When Garland did respond, he offered a boilerplate defense of the department and sought only the release of the warrant and inventory list.

If there was one occasion for total transparency, including the release of the FBI affidavit, this was that moment. Yet, Garland refused to act further. He declined to seek the release even as news media reported an array of leaks from the Justice Department, including the allegation that Trump took nuclear weapon secrets to Mar-a-Lago. As his department leaked like a sieve, Garland withheld the document that would set the record straight. 

The Justice Department also reportedly refused to allow a special master to review the seized material after alleged attorney-client material was taken — a move that would have addressed concerns that the search was “pretextual” to seize January 6th evidence.

Despite this record, I do not view Garland as inherently political in contrast to predecessors like Eric Holder. Garland’s judicial temperament may be ill-suited to the demands of this office.

Garland sometimes looks more like a pedestrian than a driver on decisions in his own department. Top positions were given to figures denounced as far-left advocates on issues from defunding the police to racial justice. For the moderate Garland, these did not seem like natural choices. Neither did the department’s recent controversial move to effectively circumvent a Trump pardon to prosecute a Florida nursing home operator.

And Garland has not responded to new allegations of bias at the FBI and Justice involving the downplaying of evidence involving the Hunter Biden laptop controversy.

Concerns also have been raised about the decision to appoint the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit office to lead the Washington, D.C., office. The agent, Steven M. D’Antuono, led the disastrous investigation of the alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Many observers viewed that case as clear entrapment and abuse by the FBI. Given the importance of the January 6 investigation, it is baffling that the Department of Justice would make this controversial transfer at this time.

An attorney general should not be motivated by optics in his decisions, but he also cannot ignore optics when they undermine the integrity of his department. The search of Mar-a-Lago was a historic raid with sweeping political implications, including on the approaching midterm elections. Garland must have known that it would be viewed by many as an “insurance policy” taken out against a Trump presidential run.

Yet, with leaks coming out of his department undermining Trump’s claims, Garland merely offered “trust us we’re the government” assurances while resisting the release of the affidavit.

When Scott Stuart faced his diminished stature, he asked, “I was continuing to shrink, to become… what? The infinitesimal? What was I?” That is a debilitating question for any person, but it is disastrous in an attorney general.

It is not that Merrick Garland is absent but that his presence often seems immaterial.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @JonathanTurley

484 thoughts on “The Incredible Shrinking Merrick Garland”

  1. In his defense and his claim that Garland is an honorable man Jonathan Turley quietly mentions that he was forced to take two radical Deputy AGs into his department, something that I had heard mentioned just last week by Mark Levin. Does anyone know who these radical deputies are? Also, we need Republicans to stop rubber stamping Biden’s VERY RADICAL appointments. The appointments that made by this administration are further left than anything in our history…and it is showing up in the results of their governing.

    1. It is difficult to expect much from most Republicans as the whole political sphere has devolved into pay-to-play corruption.

  2. Garland suffers from a terrible birth defect. He was born without a spine, and he has some sort of hole in his rear end like a Muppet where those really in charge operate him.

  3. “he is a person with unimpeachable integrity and ethics.”

    Hahaha. Sure he is. That’s the DC Swamp line they haul out when they all know the opposite is true. How many times did we hear the same line about James Comey?

    “For the moderate Garland, these did not seem like natural choices.”

    Right. Because he’s not a ‘moderate.’

    “It is breathtaking that Garland would see no need for an independent or special counsel given this country’s continued deep divisions and mistrust.”

    Breathtaking? Hahahaha.

    “It is not that Merrick Garland is absent but that his presence often seems immaterial.”

    It ‘seems’ this way because he is a feeble, mealy-mouthed, useful idiot simply taking orders from on high. He is a small man in both stature and character.

    1. Garland is a total lefty….pretending to be a moderate.

      And he is hardly “unimpeachable.” In fact, the first order of business for a Republican Congress must be to impeach and remove AG Merrick Garland.

  4. November, 2008: For those of you who remember the Democrat presidential campaign, when Hillary looked like she had a great shot at becoming the candidate, Chicago politics reared its ugly head, and somehow, Barry with many different names became the candidate. And it was arguably the first time in our history that a clear war hero with tremendous political and real-world experience was defeated for the office of POTUS — had John McCain been elected instead, this country would never have ‘required’ a revolutionary new candidate such as businessman Donald Trump. You don’t have to be a historian to figure this out.

  5. Thanks, JT, for pointing out this emperor-general really has neither stones nor new clothes. I always thought he was a beta male, pencil pushing, ivy-league bureacrat who got a position based on his big firm/school connections rather than his intellect. He’s proven that in spades and his mealy-mouthed defense of the rule of law all the while undermining it is just pathetic. He took responsibility for this banana republic style move against political opponents in a 3 minute, no questions press conference and then strode off stage like some third-world dictator. Then, he categorically refuses to release information that likely shows him to be a pandering Dim schill who ignored and ignores Hillary Clinton’s carefree attitude about classified materials all the while hounding Trump who was cooperating. The French aristocracy of Robespiere’s time could not approach this level of arrogance or downright DGF about the common man. Talk about law as a mask for power? This guy’s the whole costume section of the clown store. Damn him and all is tyrannical Dims.
    Here’ s the best take on the raid from Tucker Carlson:

  6. In a rush to enable Trump, Turley ran out trying to protect the lies of a disgraced twice impeached publicly known and proven liar. And when the lies are proven, Turley and the rest of the right-wing echo chamber now are attacking the FBI and Garland himself. Any lawyer who has attempted to defend the indefensible Trump has gone down in flames. If Turley wishes his name to be attached to Trump, he’s the one who will have to defend himself in the court of public opinion.

    1. It is true that the FBI and Garland seem to be on very solid ground here. To say that Garland needs to explain himself further to the Trump cultists who believe anything Trump says even when contrary evidence is staring them in the face is ridiculous. Trump had top secret documents at Mar-a-Lago and refused to return them. Trump has not even tried to offer an explanation for why he had them. The rubes who follow Trump have swallowed the idea in the past week that the FBI planted documents, that the documents weren’t really classified, that we need to know who told the FBI where the documents were so we can harass that person and get some gun toting cultists outside their house.

      No, Trump stole documents, Trump lied. Trump owes an explanation to the American people. Something other than attacking Garland and the FBI for doing their job.

      1. “Something other than attacking [Robespierre] and the [Committee of Public Safety] for doing their job.”

        There. Fixed it for you.

  7. Your column is an excellent compilation of Garland’s shortcomings as AG. However, after reading that compilation, I was struck by your assessment that he “is a person of unimpeachable integrity and ethlcs”. It seems to me you used the wrong tense of the verb “is”. I fail to understand how a person fitting that description could engage in all the conduct you described. His conduct as AG appears functionally indistinguishable from the conduct of someone who lacks the integrity and ethics you ascribed to Garland. You may need to reassess your assessment unless you unwisely etched it in stone. I suggest you reconsider the assessment; he clearly has not lived up to it.

    1. mfd:
      “However, after reading that compilation, I was struck by your assessment that he “is a person of unimpeachable integrity and ethlcs”.
      It’s like that quip about Mussolini keeping the trains running on time – a damnation by faint, incongruous praise.

  8. “Why the Case Against Donald Trump Remains Incomplete” and “The Incredible Shrinking Merrick Garland”

    Those two articles are prime examples of why JT petrifies Leftist leaders. They know that his fidelity is to the law and the facts, and to the Constitution. They know that his articulation is compelling to the general public. They sense, like an animals feel a threat, that he is a barrier to their lust for power.

    And that is why they have renewed their smear campaign against him.

    1. Merrick Garland is specializing in ordering Unconstitutional assaults on American to quash Political Dissent against the Biden Regime. Just the most recent example; denying that HE ordered the raid on the Presidents Residence, and then admitting he did. Other examples include Putting a 73 year old man, Peter Navarro, in Leg Shackles over a questionable civil matter. Another; DOJ lying that they DIDN’T seize Trumps Passports, then telling him they did and he could pick them up at the DC FBI Field Office several States away from the Residence. This is an accelerating Stalinist level of Civil Rights abuses, and Merrick Garland must be Impeached and Imprisoned for his Civil Rights violations under color of Law.

      1. “. . . to quash Political Dissent against the Biden Regime.”

        Afghanistan was a debacle. Inflation is devastating. But *that* is the true horror of this administration.

        It is targeting “enemies of the state.” (And, of course, they are the “state.”) It is weaponizing the FBI and the DOJ. It smears dissenters as “white supremacists” and “extremists.” And, unprecedented in American history, it is persecuting and prosecuting political “criminals.”

        The Left is attempting to establish a single-party police state.

            1. … says the guy who also falsely claims that all opinions are T/F, but won’t substantiate that either.

  9. “he is a person with unimpeachable integrity and ethics.” Where would you get that impression? He works for, and accepted a position from the biggest grifter in DC! He is part of the cover-up of hunter biden’s laptop and G-d only knows what sort of corruption is found in that. All I can say is “Thank You Mitch McConnell for keeping this snake off of our Supreme Court.

    1. Absolutely agree. Turley is being either diplomatic or he is naive. Garland is a hack. Thank goodness he was blocked from appointment to the Supreme Court.

  10. It’s very sad to see Prof. Turley twist himself into a pretzel trying to exonerate a corrupt failure like Garland. Just admit that your initial support from him was a mistake, and move on professor, because this constant attempt to ignore the glaring truth is unbecoming. Garland isn’t worth the effort, and hopefully if the Republicans take over next year, we may actually see what justice looks like, rather than what it has morphed into under Democratic totalitarianism.

  11. Even if there were documents marked TS and SCI — and we have only the FBI’s word on this since Trump’s lawyers weren’t allowed to observe the raid — they were the same documents the NARA saw back in January 2022 when they removed 15 boxes of documents. Why didn’t they think to mention it back then, or collect those boxes then? Too far away from the midterms?

    1. Trump’s lawyers and kids observed the search on their internal video system.

      And they were NOT “the same documents the NARA saw back in January 2022.” Had they seen them in Jan. of 2022, they would have taken them in Jan. of 2022. Trump shouldn’t have been in possession of any Presidential Records as of Jan. 21, 2022.

  12. People like Garland and every other establishment Democrat are exactly what they’ve always been accused of being by conservatives. They are bitter, lying, deceptive partisan operatives who use mealy mouthed words to clothe themselves in a dishonest mantle of moderation and good faith when in reality, most of them are nothing but party men and apparatchiks.

  13. “he is a person with unimpeachable integrity and ethics.” I think you need to put that in the past tense. No, it’s not a “personality” thing. Fool me once, but not again. When he sent the FBI after parents, you might have said then that it was just bad judgment. But since then, Garland has shown a pattern of abuse — and you cannot hide that behind some silly personality theory. The guy is corrupt, and we might even say that Biden’s handlers picked him because they saw that he was easily corruptible. Garland has brought shame to the DOJ like no one in history. No excuses, no defense.

  14. The nation dodged a bullet when this creep didn’t make it to the SC. But let’s not be too hard on him — he’s only doing what his bosses are telling him to do. Garland is a weak puppet who will fall on his sword for the nefarious forces really running this government. My guess…it’s the criminals from Obama Inc.

  15. Trump will, of course, be indicted to satisfy the blood lust of the Left. And he will, of course, be convicted by a DC jury made up of Democrats. The inevitable appeals will not be decided until after the 2024 election. Objective achieved.

    1. Wise one is free with his opinion. Strange he has no opinion on the charge/s. But the left has never been about wrong doing, just the proccess and pain administered. Sort out he messy crime thing after sentencing.
      Of course, conviction or not, Its still President Trump..

      Garlands bosses have sure created their own unwinnable battle

  16. We continue in this Cold Civil War that is destined to get hot. So sad. So frightening, but at least I am on the end of the age spectrum where I will not suffer too much. I asked myself yesterday (again, but particularly yesterday), what was my dad’s and his generation’s sacrifice for if only to delay the inevitable fall of liberty and the country they so loved.

  17. Barry Soertero is behind all of this. The appointment of radicals to the DOJ Department Heads, Garland as AG, thank God he’s not on the SCOTUS. It is very dirty in “the Swamp” and it’s going to get even worse. How long can Jill keep Joe upright? Can Kamala even do the job (betting odds, anyone)? I have a sign in my F 150 back window, “ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?” Boy, I’m not!

    1. DING, DING, DING…WINNER!! Obama spied on Trump before and after he was elected. HE should be in prison.

  18. If the DOJ, FBI, DHS and other agencies want to restore credibility – it’s will probably be near impossible to do until the DOJ (or independent commission) reconciles the George W. Bush era.

    The Bush Administration promoted the “Unitary Executive Theory” – which essentially meant voters elect a dictator every 4 years. Bush also introduced torture techniques from the Spanish Inquisition for the first time in over 200 years.

    Bush systematically disabled America’s “whistle blower internal dissent system” – this created an explosion of government leaking. There was no longer an internal whistleblower channel to report torture, war crimes and other abuses of power. Many low ranking officials were sent to prison for what would have been legal prior to the year 2000. Bush essentially made it impossible to be loyal to one’s constitutional Oath of Office and then gave subordinates “illegal orders” (something America strongly opposed at the Nuremberg Trials for Nazis after WW2).

    Bush systematically also removed the most respected and honest “Inspectors General” (government watchdogs) to protect government officials given illegal orders. The George W. Bush Administration disabled America’s system of checks & balances. Trump merely exploited what Bush created.

    If Trump is not criminally prosecuted and does not serve prison time, it seems Biden would have to immediately pardon lower ranking officials that were actually loyal to their Oath of Office when given illegal orders like CIA official John Kiriakou (refusing to betray his oath by refusing Bush’s torture program), Reality Winner (military hero that played an integral role in over 600 enemy kills), Thomas Drake (former NSA official), Chelsea Manning (exposed targeting and killing of reporters and civilians in war zones) and many more.

    Many of these prison sentences and other punishments would have been legal prior to George W. Bush disabling government safeguarding systems. None of these abuses would have never made it into the newspapers in the first place. Most committed far lesser offenses than the elites, like Trump, that never serve prison time. Garland must start with Bush to rebuild these government institutions.

    1. That is not what th unitary executive mans. All it means is what the constitution Article II S1 says FIRST.

      That all executive power in the US is vested in the president.

      This means that congress can not craft a law that gives the AG a power that the president does not have.

      In the current context – it means the president can declassify anything at whim.

      Nothing prohibits congress from constraining the president – but to do so they must constrain the entire executive branch.

      The unitary executive does not give legislative or judicial powers to the president.

    1. Merrick is a small man only 5 feet 6 inches. Melania is statuesque. He would need a seamstress to do alterations.

    2. “Well, Merrick has shrunk enough to be able to fit into Melania’s fabulous dresses, so it’s not a total loss.”
      Love the line, Cindy!

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