Opinion | Merrick Garland: The attacks on the Justice Department must end

Merrick Garland is Attorney General of the United States.

Last week, a California man was convicted of threatening to bomb an FBI field office where hundreds of agents and other employees work. In one of his threats to the FBI, the man wrote: “I can commit mass murder. In fact, that would be very well explained by your actions.”

These heinous threats of violence have become routine in an environment where the Justice Department is under greater attack than ever before.

In recent weeks we have seen an escalation of attacks that go far beyond public scrutiny, criticism and legitimate and necessary oversight of our work. They are baseless, personal and dangerous.

These attacks take the form of threats to withdraw funding from certain departmental investigations, most recently in the case of the special counsel’s prosecution of the former president.

They come in the form of conspiracy theories, constructed and spread to undermine public confidence in the legal process itself. These include false claims that a case brought by a local district attorney and decided by a jury verdict in a state trial was somehow controlled by the Justice Department.

They spread dangerous falsehoods about FBI law enforcement activities that increase the risks to our agents.

They manifest themselves in attempts to intimidate and harass our officials through repeated and public discrimination.

They consist of false allegations that the ministry is politicising its work in order to somehow influence the outcome of an election. Such allegations are often made by people who are themselves trying to politicise the ministry’s work in order to influence the outcome of an election.

And according to media reports, there are ongoing efforts to escalate these attacks on the Justice Department, its work, and its employees.

We will not be intimidated by these attacks. But it is absurd and dangerous that public servants, many of whom risk their lives every day, are threatened simply for doing their jobs and adhering to the principles that have long guided the work of the Department of Justice.

In my first job at the Department of Justice some 45 years ago, I worked on the first edition of the Department’s Principles of Federal Prosecution. This set of rules for prosecutors enshrined what every Department employee lives by every day: an unwavering commitment to the fair and impartial application of our laws. That commitment has been upheld by dedicated professionals who have served in administrations of both parties.

The Department of Justice makes decisions about criminal investigations based solely on facts and law. We do not investigate people based on their last name, political affiliation, the size of their bank account, where they come from, or what they look like. We investigate and prosecute violations of federal law—nothing more, nothing less.

We do this not only because of the principles that have long guided our work, but also because we know that our democracy cannot survive without a legal system that ensures equal protection of the law for all citizens.

The Department of Justice will continue to fulfill its constitutional obligation to vigorously defend the right of all Americans to peacefully express opinions, beliefs, and ideas. Disagreement on policy issues is good for our democracy. It is normal.

But it is not normal to use conspiracy theories, falsehoods, violence, and threats of violence to influence political decisions. The short-term political benefits of these tactics will never outweigh the long-term costs to our country.

The ongoing, unfounded attacks on Justice Department employees are a threat to people’s safety. They are a threat to our democracy. This must stop.