ABC News exclusive: Merrick Garland on the extremism threat

ABC News chief justice correspondent Pierre Thomas speaks exclusively with Attorney General Merrick Garland about domestic extremism threats in the U.S. and about combating racism.
9:55 | 04/20/21

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Transcript for ABC News exclusive: Merrick Garland on the extremism threat
ABC news exclusive with the attorney general Merrick Garland his first interview since joining the Biden administration. Park here Thomas speaking today to Garland and Oklahoma City on the 26 anniversary of the bombing of the federal building that killed 168. People. The most deadly case of domestic terror in this country. Garland was a federal prosecutor who oversaw the investigation that brought Timothy McVeigh to justice. Today in a wide ranging conversation Carl intro parallel with the threat of domestic terror we face today. Here's ABC's Chief Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas one on one with the attorney general. Morning. Some as attorney general thank you. You're at the Justice Department and hoped oversee the investigation Oakland C bombing my name is Merrick Garland I'm associate deputy attorney general from Justice Department in Washington house he'll be back today. Really feel quite a connection to Oklahoma City and Hussein she must first time I've been back. It feels. Chapel are. There has to years past seeing through the wave of emotion comes somewhat less but. You're listening to my speech today you'd probably saw that I wasn't quite able to hold it together at every moment. Well many years have passed. The terror perpetrated by people like Timothy McVeigh is still with us wants quite. And this is of particularly important moment. You sense that this is a moment with a country needs to pay attention to dip domestic terrorism why. Yes. Do I think the FBI reported just last month that. Violent domestic. Extremists are as high level threat to the country. And that cause they can call us the kind of tragedy has happened here. And it's important that the Justice Department put its resources into doing everything we can to stop it from happening to prosecuting people who do it. Had to fighting against the kind of hatred that leaps and these kinds of tragedies. The house looking at some data. And domestic terrorists particularly white supremacists have killed more people means country. Then internationally based terrorism societal level we saw the group massacre. At the mother and I would AME church in South Carolina. The fatal shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue the racially and ethnically motivated killing that the Texas Wal-Mart. It feels more urgent now and in in recent memory do do you agree with an assessment. It does feel urgent and I also don't want to take our eyes off of the threat of foreign terrorism as well. But I think it's true that there's been a significant uptick. There was a period after Oklahoma City where things seem to be. At a lower level and have to but this is the kind of probably can protect her eyes off. And the Justice Department is committing. Committed to to ensure that we don't do that. No we look that and some recent events. Governor Whitner the threats against her and during the insurrection we saw elements of the far right militia we saw a elements of white supremacist even Nazi sympathizers. Does it feel like economists and should. When Oklahoma City bombing happened in the kind of factors respond Timothy McVeigh does it feel to hang. Well and this is a problem that country has never have been able to eliminate. The Justice Department itself once us I've said before. And was founded during reconstruction. Two. Fight against that kind of our domestic terrorism that was keeping African Americans from being able to vote during reconstruction. Besides I'm sure you know also visited Greenwood in Tulsa. This yesterday and did have been wrong. In America. And that's a line of the same kind of hatred that. Kills. Black Americans and had burned homes. It's lined through to the kind of domestic violent extremism as represented by McVeigh. This is the kind of thing that the Justice Department was built to a fight against. When hundreds of Americans stormed the capital. The sea of democracy. Threatening to try to kill the vice president. We think that was a symptom. But I can't because I'm an attorney general because we have cases that are pending. Can't talk about. Anything specific. You know what I can say is that we put a lot of our resources into her resting in the people who committed criminal acts at the capitol. The war come to an assistant US attorneys and agents on the ground in the District of Columbia is just unbelievable 400 arrests since the event. If people are working day and night two. Catch the people who committed crimes and that Justice Department is committed to providing them the kind of resources. That they need to continue that work. An understanding that you can't talk specifically about the case. A number of the people who have been the court so we were there because that's how we did this has passed. They're being held accountable. And understand there's a difference between civil accountability. Criminal accountability and moral responsibility. I know you don't spend a lot of time talking about present form but is that a factor. And believe that Justice Department investigate every aspect of the case. What kind of again. The Justice Department doesn't comment on my individual actors and doesn't comment at all until it brings. If and when that brings cases actually regardless of who. A person is and just burn will investigate. And we we'll speak through our pleadings. Most police my father on line is a retired police officer taught criminal justice. And the state of Pennsylvania. My best friend. One of my best friends is FBI agent former FBI's but do you believe there is still pockets of racism and bias within law enforcement. And how widespread do you think it is. Racism is an American problem I think. Explain to me that there soon. Has been and remains discrimination against African Americans and other. Communities of color and other ethnic minorities. I'm I think it's reflected in discrimination in housing and employment. In the justice system. And then there and in disparate treatment in these ways and fled to a lower level of homeownership. Lower family incomes. A lesser ability to accumulate wealth. All these things. Are. Are still in America. We do not yet have people just us under law. Land 7% I think this is an important part of the role the Justice Department to help. Bring it about. This is when I want to ask you for a long time. The Supreme Court nomination. You qualified. Highly respected in the league could how you feel at that moment. When you were blocked and how did you get over how didn't pass it. Well I I appreciate the phrase are coming from you. Look I look forward to mind how have the opportunity. Two do some very important things I had the opportunity now to lead the Justice Department in pursuit of civil rights. I have a chance to lead a Justice Department in pursuit of the rule of law. In. Ensuring the independence of the department and that's. Independence particularly from any kind of partisan influence in the way we bring. Investigations. Over. Prosecutions. And I have a chance to lead them department. Sitting here in Oklahoma City. That needs to fight against domestic violent extremists. So that the kind of tragedy that we had an Oklahoma City. Doesn't occur. I think that's wonderful opportunity for myself and it's reason I wanted to. To come back to the Justice Department. Some movement on is moving on. Over has been. And final question. The president has been pretty adamant that some of these new laws which he views as suppressing those rights. Are. What he calls them on a new version of Jim Crow. Is a Justice Department looking at some of these laws. And reviewing them. Do you share some of his concern. So I guess as to go but again once again into the history of the Justice Department. Have the work I was describing was work to ensure the ability of black Americans. The newly freed slaves to vote. That's a through line. Going from then. The establishment of the civil rights division two what we're doing today the Justice Department and particularly civil rights apart division. Has actively. And that aggressively concerned about. Voting rights. I think that we do best in American won't let everybody who's eligible vote. That is the way we ensure. We're a true democracy and that's the way we ensure a respect for democracy. And the Justice Department will do everything within its authorities to ensure that that is the case. Our thanks to care for that wide ranging conversation.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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