US Attorney General Merrick Garland focuses on Ukraine in Denver speech to the American Bar Association

American Bar Association Garland
David Zalubowski/AP Photo
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland makes a point as he speaks to members of the house of delegates of the American Bar Association at the group’s annual meeting Monday, Aug. 7, 2023, in Denver.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland steered clear of any talk of stolen elections or former President Donald J. Trump in a speech to lawyers in Denver on Monday, instead focusing his remarks on the Department of Justice’s aid to Ukraine in its war with Russia.

Garland drew a standing ovation from a crowd of lawyers at the Colorado Convention Center gathering for the American Bar Association conference when he talked about prosecuting war crimes against foreign-born nationals on U.S. soil and the work the Department of Justice has done in investigating and seizing Russian assets.

“War criminals will find no refuge in America,” he said, noting his own grandmother barely survived in Belarus during World War II and was given refuge in America. 

He noted federal investigators have seized more than $500 million in assets — including two yachts — from Russian oligarchs since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2021. They have steered money from those assets back to Ukraine, Garland said.

The attorney general maintained his posture of avoiding talk of the prosecution of former President Trump in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. That prosecution is being led by special counsel Jack Smith, whom Garland appointed in 2022.

Garland told the room that he had worked under five attorneys general during his time at DOJ before being appointed by Biden in 2021 to run the agency after serving as a federal judge.

He said applying the rule of law, keeping the country safe and protecting people’s civil rights all fall within the scope of what he’s always done in his work there.

“While the justice department has certainly had different priorities under different attorneys general since I first started, the department’s underlying work has always fit well within these three categories,” he said. “So I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into.”

The crowd roared in laughter.

He then pivoted to the Russian invasion in Ukraine.

“I … did not anticipate that the DOJ’s work to uphold the rule of law would soon extend to help the Ukrainian allies protect the rule of law in their own country,” he said. “It is that work … that I will talk about this morning.”

Garland pleaded to the room of lawyers for help in documenting the damages and harms suffered by Ukrainians in the war. 

“Addressing the needs of millions of Ukrainians displaced or otherwise harmed by Russia’s invasion will require years and Herculean effort,” Garland said. “Lawyers will be critical to this work.”