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Previous story Merrick Garland finally got his Senate vote. Now comes the hard part Next story

STORY BY MARSHALL COHEN

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Published on March 12, 2021 11:25 PM

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Merrick Garland finally got his Senate vote. Now comes the hard part
Washington (CNN)Merrick Garland faces multiple crises to address and politically tough decisions to make as he belatedly takes the reins at the Justice Department as attorney general.

He'll try to heal a workforce that was battered during the Trump era, deliver on President Joe Biden's liberal priorities and campaign promises and oversee some of the most complex investigations in a generation. In an address to the department's 115,000-person workforce, Garland said Thursday that he would "adhere to the norms" and invoked the name of Edward Levi, the attorney general who took over after the Watergate era. "Those norms require that like cases be treated alike," the newly minted attorney general said. "That there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans. One rule for friends and another for foes. One rule for the powerful and another for the powerless. One rule for the rich and another for the poor. Or different rules depending upon one's race or ethnicity."

The decisions Garland, 68, makes will shape Biden's presidency and could transform the legacy of former President Donald Trump and his allies, who might face scrutiny in the massive criminal investigation into the Capitol insurrection. Garland got a bipartisan nod of approval of 70-30 on Wednesday, earning the support of 20 Republicans in a Senate where zero-sum partisanship is the new normal. But that was the easy part for Garland, who's been a federal appellate judge since 1997.

His first briefing was on the investigation into the January 6 Capitol attack, as well as ongoing security threats. FBI Director Christopher Wray, acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin and other senior officials from the FBI and the US attorney's office in Washington, DC, were expected to participate, DOJ officials told CNN. This Capitol riot investigation has already dredged up difficult questions for department leaders: Are sedition charges appropriate? How aggressively should prosecutors scrutinize former President Donald Trump's role in inciting the deadly riot? And how will they walk a constitutional tightrope while examining communication between GOP lawmakers and right-wing extremists? There will be no easy decisions as Garland navigates this political minefield. "He is exactly what the DOJ needs at this historic moment in our nation's history," said Michael Zeldin, a former CNN contributor who previously served in several senior roles at the Justice Department. "He knows the department, he's a legal scholar, and he recognizes the inflection point the criminal justice system is at and understands the imperative of getting it right."