Former White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Sunday that he’d like to see the Justice Department be more “aggressive” in protecting voting and abortion rights ― comments that point to a behind-the-scenes divide between some of President Joe Biden’s top advisers and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Klain made his comments on “Inside with Jen Psaki,” an MSNBC show hosted by Biden’s former press secretary ― a not-so-subtle indication that Klain’s feelings are shared by others in Biden’s inner circle, even as the president has made clear he wants to avoid directly influencing the Justice Department.
“I think that Judge Garland believes very much in the integrity of the Justice Department and institutional norms there,” Klain told Psaki. “And I think at a time when a lot of Americans, including me, would like to see the Justice Department get more aggressive in court, defending voting rights, defending reproductive rights ― that more cautious, measured approach seems just not aggressive enough, given the threats that our rights face.”
.@RonaldKlain: "I think at a time when a lot of Americans, including me, would like the Justice Department to get more aggressive in court defending voting rights, defending reproductive rights -- that more cautious, measured approach seems just not aggressive enough." pic.twitter.com/ohI6xd6ljb— Inside with Jen Psaki (@InsideWithPsaki) April 30, 2023
Some high-ranking Democrats have long privately viewed Garland as too cautious and apolitical to do battle with a right-wing judiciary and an increasingly authoritarian Republican Party, but they’ve largely kept their criticisms quiet because of Biden’s desire to protect DOJ’s integrity. Many had preferred former Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) for the role when Biden was first filling his Cabinet spots.
When Psaki asked what steps Garland should take, Klain said the department should be looking for voter intimidation cases to prosecute, and should more aggressively target state-level laws limiting travel to get abortions.
“I think they should look for opportunities to go to court and make it clear that voter intimidation is wrong,” he said. “And that some of these efforts in these states to limit women’s rights to travel, get information, get the medical care they need, is contrary to our laws and contrary to the broader principles of our Constitution.”
However, Klain declined to weigh in on the pace of investigations into former President Donald Trump, which were under Garland’s control until the appointment of special counsel Jack Smith shortly after the midterm elections in November.
Anthony Coley, a former top spokesperson for Garland, fired back at Klain on Twitter, calling his comments “a cheap shot inconsistent w/the facts” and noting that the Justice Department successfully sued Idaho to block part of the state’s near-total ban on abortion.