John Krull: Merrick Garland knows his job

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland made the right call.

Garland’s decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate how classified documents from President Joe Biden’s time as vice president still were in his possession and whether laws were broken will help re-establish an important principle.

That principle?

The U.S. Department of Justice is not the legal arm of the White House. The Justice Department’s clients are the U.S. Constitution and the American people, not whichever person happens to occupy the Oval Office at any particular time.

That principle was eroded — even ignored — during former President Donald Trump’s reign. Trump expected his two attorneys general, Jeff Sessions and William Barr, to defend his interests first, even when they conflicted with those of the nation. Trump constantly demanded that Sessions and then Barr should end investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

When Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading that investigation, issued his findings, Trump put intense pressure on Barr to say the report absolved him of wrongdoing.

To his shame, Barr did so.

In fact, Mueller’s report made clear that the only thing that spared Trump from a possible indictment was a Justice Department policy preventing such a thing from occurring.

Fortunately, Merrick Garland is made of more ethically resilient stuff than either Sessions or Barr.

President Biden and his fellow Democrats are not thrilled that Garland elected to appoint a special counsel in the matter. They fear the investigation will distract attention and divert energy from the president’s agenda.

Likely, it will.

But that would have been a reason to be more responsible regarding the handling of the classified documents that were in Biden’s possession.

Biden’s defenders also argue there are important and exonerating circumstances that separate his case from that of Trump, who also is being investigated by a different special counsel for possessing classified documents. Biden partisans argue that he and his legal team turned the documents in themselves, did not lie to investigators about having them and did not obstruct justice.

Perhaps that all is true.

If so, an investigation will determine as much.

That is what investigations are supposed to do — determine the truth.

If President Biden wants to follow Garland’s example and work to restore faith in American institutions, he will do the following things. He will stay as far away from the special counsel’s investigation as possible. He will not threaten to fire Garland or even hint that he is frustrated with the attorney general. Most important, he will not declare the whole thing a “witch hunt” and seek to undermine the investigation’s findings before we even know what they are.

The right wing accuses Garland of “weaponizing” the Justice Department to persecute Trump unfairly. That’s a clear case of projection on conservatives’ part. If anyone “weaponized” the Justice Department, it was Trump, who turned the attorney general into his personal attorney and made everyone in the department work to explain, defend and mitigate his transgressions.

The left berates Garland for not moving fast enough regarding possible indictments and prosecution of Trump and his allies for varied and seemingly endless offenses. But arriving at the truth takes time, particularly when people being investigated are determined to hide it. So does building a case that will stand up.

The last thing any responsible U.S. attorney general would want to do is charge a former president with a crime and be wrong about it.

If Biden’s possession of classified documents was an honest mistake, a thorough investigation will determine that. The same goes for Trump.

The truth is always there. Most often, we can find it if we’re willing to look hard enough.

The fact that Merrick Garland angers both Democrats and Republicans while he goes about his work shows that he knows what his job is. That job is not to please any politician or party. It is to serve the interests of justice, preserve the U.S. Constitution and defend the rights of the American people.

That’s why Garland made the decision he did. It was the right one.

John Krull is director of Franklin College‚Äôs Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students, where this commentary originally appeared. The opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the views of Franklin College. Send comments to [email protected]