Los Angeles Times

Bomb­ing in­quiry shaped Gar­land

Nom­i­nee for at­tor­ney gen­eral led the fed­eral probe in Ok­la­homa City after 1995 at­tack.

- By Del Quentin Wil­ber Crime · U.S. News · Politics · Justice · Law · Garland · Washington · Oklahoma · Oklahoma City · United States of America · Cincinnati · United States Department of Justice · Joe Biden · United States Senate · Donald Trump · Republican Party (United States) · U.S. Supreme Court · Antonin Scalia · Neil Gorsuch · Lindsey Graham · South Carolina · Harvard Law School · U.S. government · FBI · Branch · Waco · Waco · Texas · O. J. Simpson · White-collar Crime · Gilmore · Hunter Biden · Hunter · Harvard · Timothy McVeigh · Tinker Air Force Base · Nichols Town, NY · Donna · Jamie Gorelick

WASH­ING­TON — Ar­riv­ing in Ok­la­homa City the night after the worst do­mes­tic ter­ror­ist at­tack in U.S. his­tory, Mer­rick Gar­land grasped the enor­mous­ness of the task ahead of him. Down­town re­sem­bled a war zone. Mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles blocked streets. For blocks, fed­eral agents and po­lice were busy col­lect­ing ev­i­dence. At the fed­eral build­ing, where 168 peo­ple had died in a mas­sive bomb blast, res­cue work­ers were search­ing through rub­ble for vic­tims, guided by the eerie glow of flood­lights that seemed to Gar­land as bright as the noon­day sun.

With shat­tered glass crunch­ing un­der­foot on his way to the com­mand cen­ter, Gar­land knew his Jus­tice Depart­ment team would have to sur­mount ob­sta­cles typ­i­cal of any big in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But he also un­der­stood broader so­ci­etal forces re­quired spe­cial at­ten­tion if pros­e­cu­tors hoped to win jus­tice for those slain: Trust in law en­force­ment was

erod­ing, Amer­ica was awash in con­spir­acy the­o­ries, and the govern­ment didn’t have a grip on the threat posed by right-wing ex­trem­ists.

Gar­land’s over­sight of the bomb­ing in­quiry pro­vides in­sights into how, as Pres­i­dent Bi­den’s nom­i­nee to be the next at­tor­ney gen­eral, he would run the Jus­tice Depart­ment, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views with for­mer pros­e­cu­tors and agents, as well as a de­tailed oral his­tory Gar­land pro­vided in 2013 to the Ok­la­homa City Na­tional Me­mo­rial & Mu­seum. Though the at­tack took place nearly 26 years ago, the for­mer pros­e­cu­tor’s ex­pe­ri­ences have be­come newly rel­e­vant as he seeks to lead the fed­eral ef­fort to hold ac­count­able those re­spon­si­ble for the deadly siege last month of the U.S. Capi­tol and to pre­vent sim­i­lar vi­o­lence.

“Mer­rick Gar­land has seen the face of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism,” said J. Gil­more Childers, a for­mer Jus­tice Depart­ment pros­e­cu­tor who worked with Gar­land on the Ok­la­homa City case. “And he has learned how to rec­og­nize that face and what it stands for.”

Gar­land is ex­pected to win easy con­fir­ma­tion from the Se­nate, which is sched­uled to hold a hear­ing Mon­day on his nom­i­na­tion. If con­firmed, the 68-year-old fed­eral ap­pel­late judge will face se­ri­ous chal­lenges be­yond those posed by ex­trem­ists who stormed the Capi­tol.

He has been tasked with ex­pe­di­tiously im­ple­ment­ing Bi­den ad­min­is­tra­tion poli­cies that seek to beef up en­force­ment of civil and vot­ing rights laws, and re­duce racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. He will also need to bol­ster morale at an agency that be­came mired in the Trump era over how it han­dled pros­e­cu­tions of the pres­i­dent’s as­so­ciates and the roll­out of a spe­cial coun­sel’s re­port on Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion while si­mul­ta­ne­ously over­see­ing po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tions, in­clud­ing a tax in­quiry on Hunter Bi­den, the pres­i­dent’s son.

Gar­land is sure to get tough ques­tions from sen­a­tors of both par­ties. Con­ser­va­tives are likely to at­tack him about Bi­den ad­min­is­tra­tion poli­cies they con­sider to be too lib­eral. Repub­li­can sen­a­tors ex­pressed sim­i­lar ap­pre­hen­sions when they tor­pe­doed Gar­land’s 2016 nom­i­na­tion to the Supreme Court after the death of Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia, a con­ser­va­tive icon. They ar­gued at the time that Gar­land’s ap­point­ment would swing the high court too far to the left. The GOP­con­trolled Se­nate re­fused to con­sider the nom­i­na­tion and left the seat va­cant for the next pres­i­dent to fill — though it was nearly nine months be­fore the elec­tion. Pres­i­dent Trump suc­ceeded in win­ning con­fir­ma­tion of Neil M. Gor­such, a con­ser­va­tive fed­eral ap­pel­late judge, to the seat.

Still, Gar­land has drawn sup­port from in­flu­en­tial Republican­s. Sen. Lind­sey Graham (R-S.C.), the party’s most re­cent Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee chair­man, tweeted shortly after news of Gar­land’s nom­i­na­tion be­came pub­lic that the judge was “a man of great char­ac­ter, in­tegrity, and tremen­dous com­pe­tency in the law.”

His nom­i­na­tion has gen­er­ated muted en­thu­si­asm from lib­eral ac­tivists con­cerned he too of­ten sided with law en­force­ment as a judge, and Demo­cratic sen­a­tors are ex­pected to ask him about his plans to en­force civil rights laws and the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s role in re­form­ing po­lice depart­ments.

Law­mak­ers are also likely to ques­tion him about whether Trump bears le­gal cul­pa­bil­ity in urg­ing his fol­low­ers last month to march to the Capi­tol be­fore they stormed the com­plex.

As­so­ciates say the fed­eral judge — whose nom­i­na­tion be­came pub­lic hours be­fore the Capi­tol was be­sieged — will avoid com­ment­ing di­rectly on Trump or the Capi­tol in­ves­ti­ga­tion but may point to lessons he learned while over­see­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Ok­la­homa City bomb­ing.

Gar­land has called over­see­ing that in­quiry the cap­stone of his le­gal ca­reer, which has in­cluded a twodecade stint on one of the na­tion’s most in­flu­en­tial ap­peals courts. Then a top Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial, he spent sev­eral weeks in bomb-dev­as­tated Ok­la­homa per­son­ally su­per­vis­ing pros­e­cu­tors and agents be­fore re­turn­ing to Wash­ing­ton, where he con­tin­ued to guide the depart­ment’s bomb­ing trial prepa­ra­tions.

“This is the cen­tral thing, the most sig­nif­i­cant thing I worked on,” Gar­land said in the oral his­tory with the Ok­la­homa City Na­tional Me­mo­rial, in which he spoke at length about his work on the case.

Lawyers, he added, are not al­ways sure if they make a dif­fer­ence in a spe­cific case. But he never felt that way about Ok­la­homa City. “Be­ing there makes you feel like you had a role to play in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” he said, “help­ing pull peo­ple to­gether, and it’s a very sat­is­fy­ing feel­ing for a lawyer.”

Gar­land, a 1977 grad­u­ate of Har­vard Law School, worked in pri­vate prac­tice, ris­ing to part­ner of a ma­jor law firm be­fore de­cid­ing he needed trial ex­pe­ri­ence, he has said. In 1989, he left his lu­cra­tive job and joined the Jus­tice Depart­ment as a pros­e­cu­tor. A few years later, he was tapped by the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion to serve as prin­ci­pal as­sis­tant deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, the top ad­vi­sor to the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral who runs the depart­ment’s day-to-day oper­a­tions.

Gar­land was at his desk April 19, 1995, when an “Ur­gent Re­port” flashed across his com­puter screen. It said there had been ex­plo­sion at 9:02 a.m. at the Al­fred P. Mur­rah Fed­eral Build­ing. Within min­utes, the hor­ror be­came clear: A bomb had det­o­nated and scores of peo­ple, in­clud­ing chil­dren in a day care cen­ter, were miss­ing and pre­sumed dead.

The Ok­la­homa City U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice did not have the ca­pac­ity to spear­head such a vast in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The day after the at­tack, Gar­land hopped on an FBI jet and headed west.

At first, the govern­ment sus­pected Is­lamic ter­ror­ists were be­hind the at­tack. But be­fore Gar­land could land in Ok­la­homa, au­thor­i­ties ar­rested Ti­mothy McVeigh, a for­mer U.S. soldier who had be­come an anti-govern­ment zealot an­gry over the bloody 1993 storm­ing of the Branch Da­vid­i­ans’ com­pound in Waco, Texas.

McVeigh’s ini­tial court ap­pear­ance was moved from the dam­aged fed­eral court­house to nearby Tinker Air Force Base, and Gar­land ar­ranged that the hear­ing be open to the me­dia and pub­lic, be­liev­ing that con­spir­acy the­o­ries could be com­bated with trans­parency.

When he met with pros­e­cu­tors and in­ves­ti­ga­tors, he in­sisted that ev­ery­one “do ev­ery­thing by the book,” a mantra vet­er­ans of the in­quiry vividly re­call. Gar­land, for­mer agents and pros­e­cu­tors said, un­der­stood mis­steps would be used to at­tack the le­git­i­macy of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by McVeigh’s at­tor­neys or anti-govern­ment ex­trem­ists.

For ex­am­ple, for­mer agents and pros­e­cu­tors said, when a com­pany of­fered to vol­un­tar­ily turn over records, Gar­land or­dered in­ves­ti­ga­tors to in­stead ob­tain a sub­poena. And when agents wanted to search a car for a sec­ond time, Gar­land told them to seek an­other war­rant.

At the time, the O.J. Simp­son trial was gen­er­at­ing daily head­lines de­tail­ing al­le­ga­tions of slip­shod po­lice work, and Gar­land did not want an Ok­la­homa City in­ves­ti­ga­tion to be crit­i­cized in the same way.

“It was the most re­cent sort of ‘Trial of the Cen­tury,’ which ev­ery few decades there is an­other trial of the cen­tury,” Gar­land said in the 2013 oral his­tory. “There were a lot of is­sues in [the O.J. Simp­son trial] about how the foren­sic ev­i­dence had been han­dled and also how the peo­ple in­volved, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors, had han­dled them­selves, and we wanted to be sure that we were not go­ing to have that kind of cir­cum­stance.”

For­mer pros­e­cu­tors said Gar­land’s as­sid­u­ous­ness in Ok­la­homa City and his later as­sis­tance in su­per­vis­ing the trial team from Wash­ing­ton set the stage for a suc­cess­ful pros­e­cu­tion of McVeigh and a co-con­spir­a­tor, Terry Ni­chols. McVeigh was even­tu­ally con­victed and sen­tenced to death. He was ex­e­cuted in 2001. Ni­chols pleaded guilty and was sen­tenced to life in prison.

Through it all, Gar­land never be­trayed emo­tion, not even when he and Donna Bu­cella, an­other Jus­tice Depart­ment pros­e­cu­tor, toured the dev­as­tated fed­eral build­ing, she said. With the stench of death in the air, they peered into the gap­ing hole left by the ex­plo­sion and no­ticed a nearby work­sta­tion that hadn’t been touched — pa­pers were per­fectly stacked on a desk and a sport coat was draped with­out a wrin­kle over a chair.

“We just looked at each other and nod­ded,” Bu­cella said. “That’s all you could do. It was a solemn mo­ment.”

Jamie Gore­lick, the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral who sent Gar­land to Ok­la­homa City, said the fu­ture nom­i­nee was the right per­son for the job. A quick thinker, he made tough de­ci­sions but also wasn’t a mi­cro­man­ager.

“As at­tor­ney gen­eral, he would know he can’t run in­ves­ti­ga­tions, but he will make sure that the right ques­tions are asked, the right re­sources are brought to bear,” Gore­lick said. “That is cer­tainly a les­son he learned from the Ok­la­homa City bomb­ing.”

 ?? As­so­ci­ated Press ?? THE MUR­RAH Fed­eral Build­ing was dev­as­tated by an ex­plo­sion that killed 168 peo­ple on April 19, 1995.
As­so­ci­ated Press THE MUR­RAH Fed­eral Build­ing was dev­as­tated by an ex­plo­sion that killed 168 peo­ple on April 19, 1995.

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