U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday pressed Congress for increased funding on a variety of Justice Department priorities, including combating domestic terrorism, protecting civil rights, prosecuting hate crimes and battling the opioid epidemic.
Testifying for the first time as attorney general before a House Appropriations subcommittee, Garland also spoke about policing reforms, including a budget request to enhance community-oriented policing.
“Promoting public trust between communities and law enforcement is essential to making both communities and policing safe. Our budget proposes increased investment in programs supporting community oriented policing and addressing systemic inequities,” Garland said.
Asked what dangers facing the country trouble him the most, Garland said foreign and domestic terrorism are “an emerging and accelerating threat.”
“Both forms of terrorism are of extraordinary concern to me. We never want to take our eyes off of what happened on 9/11 and the risks that our country continues to face from foreign origin attacks on the homeland,” he said. “Likewise, we have a growing fear of domestic violent extremism and domestic terrorism. Both of those keep me up at night.”
Those dangers have only increased in recent years, he added. “The lethality of weapons available to these kinds of terrorists, both foreign and domestic, has increased. The consequence of the internet and encryption means that they can send information and make plans much more swiftly and in greater secrecy than could have been done before,” Garland said.
He said the president’s budget request for the Justice Department is designed to address “both international and domestic terrorism while respecting civil liberties. It includes increases of $45 million for FBI domestic terrorism investigation and $40 million to U.S. attorneys to manage increasing domestic terrorism caseloads.”
Garland said the $35 billion budget also calls for an increase in funding to his agency’s civil rights division aimed at fighting discrimination, protecting voting rights and prosecuting hate crimes.
Garland also touted budget requests to increase funding for the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, including $120 million to tackle a backlog in the processing of rape kits.
The budget also calls for increased funding to hire more judges to combat a massive backlog of cases in immigration courts, as well as money for programs to battle gun violence and the opioid crisis.
The subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., noted that he and his colleagues have seen only a budget summary, not the budget itself, and expressed skepticism at some of the items highlighted by Garland, referring to some of the proposed gun violence measures as “liberal feel-good programs.”
Aderholt said he was concerned the proposal didn’t focus enough on foreign terror threats or improving human trafficking prosecutions, but added that, “I do believe that there will be opportunity to find some agreement on measures to reduce violent crime, fight the scourge of addiction and protect the vulnerable and those who seek to abuse them.”