Judge Merrick B. Garland always made a point of wearing a coat and tie when he surveyed the wreckage at the site of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the worst domestic terrorist attack in American history.
He had been dispatched from Washington to oversee the case for the Justice Department, and he told colleagues that he viewed his daily uniform as a gesture of respect for a community left devastated after Timothy J. McVeigh placed a 7,000-pound bomb in a Ryder truck and blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people, including 19 children.
“It really looked like a war zone,” Judge Garland said in recalling the destroyed and still-smoldering building, part of an oral history he participated in for the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. “The site was lit up like a sun, like the middle of the day.” The worst part, he said, was seeing the demolished day care center. “There was nothing there,” he said. “It was just a big empty concave.” His own daughters were 4 and 2 at the time.
The Oklahoma City case, he later said, was “the most important thing I have ever done in my life.”
When President Biden nominated Judge Garland last month to be attorney general, the news conjured up his ordeal in 2016 as President Barack Obama’s thwarted nominee to the Supreme Court. But Judge Garland’s experience prosecuting domestic terrorism cases in the 1990s was the formative work of his career, from the nuances of federal statutes down to the feeling of broken glass crunching beneath his dress shoes.
The man has now met the moment. At his Senate confirmation hearings starting on Monday, he will almost certainly be asked about the Department of Homeland Security’s warning that the United States faces a growing threat from “violent domestic extremists” and that the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol may not have been an isolated episode. In a strange, or perhaps fateful, turn of events, the news leaked that Judge Garland was Mr. Biden’s pick for attorney general only hours before the deadly riot. Mr. Biden formally nominated him for the position the next day.
“He has seen this hatred up close and in a very personal way,” said Donna Bucella, a former Justice Department investigator who worked with Judge Garland in Oklahoma City. In the oral history, Judge Garland recalled the “stone cold” demeanor of Mr. McVeigh and his chilling absence of emotion. “There was just no indication from him that he had any feelings about what had just happened,” Judge Garland said. [Continue reading…]