WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General Merrick Garland pushed back Friday against claims from IRS whistleblowers that the Justice Department interfered with the investigation into Hunter Biden, saying more broadly that attacks on the department's independence are corrosive.
The Republican-led House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday released a transcript of testimony from Gary Shapley, an IRS official who, among other things, claimed that Garland had denied a request from U.S. Attorney David Weiss of Delaware to be appointed special counsel. That designation would have would have given Weiss the same status as the prosecutor leading the investigation into former President Donald Trump.
Weiss never made such a request, Garland said Friday, and always had full authority to file charges wherever and however he saw fit against President Joe Biden's son. And Garland added that if Weiss -- first appointed U.S. Attorney by Donald Trump -- agrees to testify before Congress, the Justice Department will not stand in the way.
"He was given complete authority to make all decisions on his own," Garland said. "I don't know how it would be possible for anybody to block him for bringing a prosecution given that he has that authority."
More broadly, Garland forcefully rebutted criticism from Republicans that a plea agreement for the president's son on tax and gun charges made public this week reflects political influence in the American justice system. Republicans have denounced the deal as evidence of a "two-tiered system of justice."
"Some have chosen to attack the integrity of the Justice Department … by claiming we do not treat like cases alike. This constitutes an attack on an institution that is essential to American democracy and essential to the safety of the American people," Garland said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
In a separate statement Friday, Biden's lawyer denounced the idea that the investigation cut any corners, and said it would be "dangerously misleading" to make conclusions based on the Shapley transcript.
The transcript included a message Hunter sent to a business associate alluding to "sitting with his father," seemingly suggesting that his father was aware of his business dealings. Shapley acknowledged the investigation didn't turn up evidence to prove that, instead finding that it was likely untrue.
Joe Biden has said he's never spoken to his son about his foreign business. Asked Friday if the president stands by those comments, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre replied: "What I will say is nothing has changed. Nothing has changed, and I will leave it there."
Weiss' office referred request for comment about the whistleblower testimony to a June 7 letter he wrote to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan saying he had "ultimate authority" over the investigation.
The testimony from IRS agent Shapley and a second unnamed agent who worked on the case detailed what they called a pattern of "slow-walking investigative steps" and delaying enforcement actions in the Hunter Biden case, though it was unclear whether the conflict they described amounted to internal disagreement or a pattern of preferential treatment.
Shapley said Weiss told him and others during an October 2022 meeting that he had been denied special counsel status and didn't have final authority on charging decisions. Transcripts released Thursday include an email with Shapley's notes from the meeting, and a response from a supervisor saying his notes "covered it all."
A representative for Shapley called on Weiss and the Justice Department to explain the discrepancy.
Biden's attorney, for his part, said claims the investigation wasn't thorough are "preposterous and deeply irresponsible."
The Hunter Biden plea deal came days after the special counsel on the Trump case filed a historic 37-count indictment alleging mishandling of classified documents, which the former president has denied. Trump has likened the Hunter Biden agreement to a "mere traffic ticket."