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As Trump Inquiry Heats Up, Garland Warns of Threats to Rule of Law

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An emotional Attorney General Merrick B. Garland addressed latest residents on Saturday at Ellis Island, the location of his family’s American origin story, and warned that the country had turn into dangerously divided by political factionalism, which has imperiled the democracy and the rule of law.

Mr. Garland was presiding over the oath of allegiance for 250 naturalized residents at the enduring immigration processing center, on the anniversary of the signing of the Structure in 1787. As the brand new Americans rose to acknowledge their home countries — about 60 of them, with origins from Albania to Yemen — he told them that the US “wholeheartedly welcomes you.”

During a 10-minute speech wherein he repeatedly stopped to gather himself, the attorney general recounted the story of his grandmother’s flight from antisemitism in what’s now Belarus before World War II, and the narrow escape to Latest York made by his wife’s mother, who fled Austria after Nazis annexed the country in 1938.

“My family story is what motivated me to decide on a profession in public service,” said the typically stoic attorney general, his voice dropping to a husky whisper. “I desired to repay my country for taking my family in after they had nowhere else to go. I desired to repay the debt my family owes this country for our very lives.”

The whole lot Mr. Garland says lately is parsed for deeper meaning — and prosecutorial clues — because the Justice Department plunges ahead with sprawling, open-ended investigations into former President Donald J. Trump and his allies. The attorney general often uses public appearances to deal with Mr. Trump and Trumpism in veiled but unmistakable terms, decrying division and vowing to carry “the powerful” accountable for crimes they commit.

But Saturday’s speech got here at a critical moment, as Mr. Garland commits to an inquiry into possible criminality by a former president who stays a political force, and has repeatedly attacked Mr. Garland, his department and the F.B.I.

Mr. Trump has claimed that he continues to enjoy executive privilege as a former president, despite legal precedent on the contrary, throughout his battle with the Justice Department over his retention of highly classified documents. Mr. Garland has rejected that argument, and the department in its court filings has pushed back against the concept that the previous president deserves protections not afforded to other residents who’re under federal scrutiny.

“The protection of law — the rule of law — is the inspiration of our system of presidency,” said Mr. Garland, a slight, upright figure standing under the soaring barrel vault within the immigration museum’s great hall, which served as the purpose of entry for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from 1892 to 1954.

“The rule of law signifies that the law treats each of us alike: There will not be one rule for friends, one other for foes; one rule for the powerful, one other for the powerless; a rule for the wealthy, one other for the poor,” he said, adding that the rule of law “is fragile, it demands constant effort and vigilance.”

It was incumbent on all Americans, he said, to “do what is correct, even when meaning doing what’s difficult.”

How Times reporters cover politics. We depend on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they should not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

Difficulties abound. In recent days, federal prosecutors have widened their inquiries into the previous president’s role within the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, issuing greater than 40 latest subpoenas to potential witnesses. Mr. Trump scored a vital legal victory, nevertheless, by securing the appointment of an outdoor arbiter to review highly sensitive government documents seized from his Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, on Aug. 8.

At the identical time, the Republican Party is embracing Mr. Trump’s signature issue — illegal immigration — as a showcase theme for this fall’s midterm elections. On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a possible Trump opponent in 2024, sent about 50 Venezuelan migrants to the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard in a publicity stunt.

Some Democrats have called upon Mr. Garland to launch a federal inquiry into Mr. DeSantis’s actions; a spokeswoman for the attorney general had no comment.

Mr. Garland, who wrote his speech with the care he once lavished on appellate decisions, had planned to talk about his support for immigrants long before Mr. DeSantis made his move, in keeping with officials.

But recent developments added to the emotional stakes — and spurred memories of his grandmother’s flight from the Pale of Settlement, a broad swath of modern-day Eastern Europe and Russia where a few of his Jewish ancestors had been amongst those confined, persecuted and eventually slaughtered by the Third Reich.

“My grandmother was one among five children,” he said, adding: “Three made it to the US, including my grandmother, who got here through the Port of Baltimore. Two didn’t make it. Those two were killed within the Holocaust.”

The attendees, who were in a festive, murmuring mood after taking their oaths, needed just a few minutes to settle down after Mr. Garland began speaking.

However the room eventually fell silent as he spoke about his family, and most of the latest residents said as they later streamed out, citizenship certificates in hand, that his story resonated with them.

“It really got to me,” said Mamy Tai, 39, a babysitter from the Ivory Coast who now lives in Harlem. “I really like America. I really like that I get to be a citizen. Here, they provide you with a likelihood to be what you must be.”

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