When Attorney General Merrick Garland thinks back to 2016, when it became clear he wouldn’t get a Senate hearing that would pave the way to becoming a U.S. Supreme Court justice, he remembers feeling disappointed but was determined to forge ahead. “I was, of course, as a human being, very disappointed by not having the chance to have a hearing,” the attorney general“But, you know, my favorite poet says, ‘You got to shake it off.’ And life goes on.”
Now, the attorney general is leading the Department of Justice at an unprecedented time in its history. The department is prosecuting the former president, Donald Trump, and the son of President Joe Biden, Hunter Biden. There’s also a special counsel investigation into President Biden’s handling of classified information after his two terms as vice president. All of this is happening during a heated presidential election primary campaign.
“Justice Department prosecutors are nonpartisan,” the attorney general told 60 Minutes. “They don’t allow partisan considerations to play any role in their determinations.”
In a rare interview, the attorney general spoke with 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley about a wide range of topics, from helping Ukraine document war crimes, to combating the use of the deadly drug fentanyl.
INVESTIGATING RUSSIAN WAR CRIMES IN UKRAINE
The Department of Justice has been working closely with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect, store and analyze evidence of war crimes in Ukraine. Attorney General Merrick Garland says he sees this as a tradition of international cooperation within the department; former Attorney General Robert Jackson was Chief United States Prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, which led to the conviction of hundreds of Nazis after World War II.
“Part of our obligation to protect the rule of law is to work internationally with our partners,” the attorney general explained. “And our job with respect to Ukraine is to help people who are on the ground, the prosecutors who are every day risking their lives to collect the evidence of torture of their civilians, of the tax on their hospitals, of bombings of their theaters, of stealing of their children.” Attorney General Garland said he hopes the Justice Department can help Ukrainians, “make a record of that, to help hold those people accountable, [and] help prevent those things from ever happening again.”
OPIOIDS AND FENTANYL
Scott Pelley and the 60 Minutes team were with Attorney General Garland at the Family Summit on Fentanyl, an event organized by the DOJ’s Drug Enforcement Agency that brought together families who have experienced the loss of a loved one due to a drug poisoning. In opening remarks, Garland announced $345 million in grants to combat fentanyl. He also spoke to several families at the event, listening to their stories and consoling them.
60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley asked why the attorney general put himself through that. “I’ve learned over the course of my career as a prosecutor that meeting with the victims of crime, meeting with the survivors, with the families, is essential for us to understand not just at a theoretical level about what we do, but an actual level,” Garland said. “It gives us a mission much stronger than if we just read about that.”
The attorney general said part of the challenge in addressing the “scourge” of fentanyl is the low cost of producing it. “This is being run by cartels of people who care not one wit for human life [and] see an enormous profit incentive,” he said. “The cost of making fentanyl is pennies. The ability to sell it on American streets is enormously higher.”
The attorney general pointed to several indictments and arrests the Department of Justice has made of fentanyl producers and traffickers in China and Mexico. Garland cited one example: the U.S. had extradited Ovidio Guzmán López, one of the sons of the former leader of the Sinaloa cartel Joaquin Guzman Loera, known as “El Chapo,” to face charges of drug trafficking, among other offenses. “We have brought more than a dozen of the leaders of the cartels to the United States to face justice,” Garland said. “And we will bring many more.”
The videos above were produced by Will Croxton, Brit McCandless Farmer and Sarah Shafer Prediger. They were edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.
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