Durbin Questions Attorney General Garland During Hearing On Oversight Of The Department Of Justice

Durbin asks Garland how DOJ is using the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to help address gun violence

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned Attorney General (AG) Merrick Garland at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled, “Oversight of the Department of Justice.”  Durbin asked AG Garland about the Department’s efforts to address gun violence, particularly after the July 4th Highland Park, Illinois, shooting.  Specifically, Durbin asked how DOJ is using the authorities and resources provided by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

“To think that there is a weapon out there, a military-style weapon and the clips that are available to fire off multiple rounds into innocent crowds to me makes little or no sense when you read the basic language of the Second Amendment.  So Congress did something… The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act addressed issues of straw purchasing, which we have discussed before.  And the terrible death of Ella French, the Chicago policewoman [who died] because of a straw purchase made in the state of Indiana.  And in this situation, the shootings of innocent individuals in Highland Park.  I would like to ask you what you have seen, if anything, that has changed for the better since we passed this law?”  Durbin asked.

AG Garland responded that the law was very important, and as Durbin mentioned, “established a standalone crime for straw purchasing and a standalone crime for trafficking in illegal weapons.”

“Are these being prosecuted?” Durbin continued. 

AG Garland responded that the Department has already brought trafficking cases and several straw purchasing cases as a consequence of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.  In addition, the law provides for enhanced background checks for those trying to purchase a gun under the age of 21, which the Department has “largely completed the process of making those possible.” AG Garland also commented on the significant grant funding administered by DOJ under the law.

Durbin asked about fentanyl deaths and the risk of drugs being peddled to children on social media apps.  Durbin cited Ranking Member Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) opening statement in which he stated that the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 18 to 45 is drug overdoses.  Durbin noted that the leading cause of death among children is gun violence and that both problems needed to be addressed, saying “we can do both, we must do both.” 

He also referenced the recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on children’s online safety.  The hearing examined the challenge of ensuring online child safety and privacy, with witnesses testifying to the risks, threats, and harms that children face in the online world. 

“I think there was a general consensus among this Committee that we need to do something about social media platforms.  And I coincidentally had a meeting just a day or two later with Anne Milgram from the Drug Enforcement Administration, during which she described sales on the internet and social media platforms of phony drugs.  I asked her how common this was, and she said very common… Do you believe we need to do more to regulate and control the use of social media platforms that are currently exploiting families and children across America?”  Durbin asked.

AG Garland agreed with Durbin about the severity of fentanyl in prescription drugs and the influence of social media.  AG Garland stated, “As the DEA Administrator’s testimony demonstrated, six out of ten of those pills are a fatal dose.  The cartels that are creating these pills, and that are distributing them within the United States, are the most horrid individuals you can imagine.  And unfortunately, they are doing it on social media – advertising as if they are prescription pills.  So the DEA has a program going out to the social media companies, and urging them to advise DEA when they see this.”

Durbin pressed AG Garland about Section 230. Durbin said, “We have basically said to these companies you are absolved from liability, make money, and they’re at it in overtime… We have a responsibility on a bipartisan basis to take on this issue.  I hope we have your support and the support of the President.”

AG Garland responded to Durbin that DOJ supports the effort to find a better way to get the social media companies to take these items off their platforms, to search for them, and to not use algorithms that recommend them. 

Video of Durbin’s first round of questions in Committee are available here.

Audio of Durbin’s first round of questions in Committee are available here.

Footage of Durbin’s first round of questions in Committee are available here for TV Stations.

Durbin concluded his questions by commenting on DOJ’s handling of classified documents.  During his opening statement, Durbin praised AG Garland for returning the Department of Justice to its traditional and proper role, and his commitment to avoid even the appearance of polarization.  Durbin argued this is a stark contrast compared to the previous DOJ under former President Trump.

“You have authorized a Special Counsel to investigate the classified materials, both at President Biden's home as well as former President Trump's home. Special Counsels have some independence by their designation.  Could you explain why you did that? Durbin asked.

AG Garland stated that given the circumstances of both President Biden and former President Trump, it was appropriate to appoint a Special Counsel.

Video of Durbin’s second round of questions in Committee are available here.

Audio of Durbin’s second round of questions in Committee are available here.

Footage of Durbin’s second round of questions in Committee are available here for TV Stations.