In his remarks, committee chair Senator Dick Durbin slammed Mr Barr, saying that during the Trump administration “the Justice Department became an arm of the White House, committed to advancing the interests of President Trump, his family, and his political allies”.
The Democrat continued: “The United States Department of Justice became the Trump Department of Justice. General Barr stated clearly that he believed the Attorney General was the President’s lawyer, not the nation’s.”
Mr Durbin called Merrick Garland’s nomination as attorney general “one of the most critical” in the history of the Justice Department.
“There have been few moments in history where the role of Attorney General — and the occupant of that post — have mattered more,” he said.
“Judge Garland, should you be confirmed — and I have every confidence that you will be — you will oversee a Justice Department in an existential moment. After four tumultuous years of intrigue, controversy, and brute political forces, the future course of the department is clearly in transition,” Mr Durbin continued.
He added that he was confident Mr Garland could both transform the department and meet the challenges of the moment, including restoring the faith of the American people in the rule of law, while delivering equal justice for all.
Five years ago Mr Garland was nominated to an open Supreme Court seat by then-president Barack Obama. Republicans in the Senate blocked his confirmation, holding off filling the vacancy until Donald Trump took office.
Mr Garland is likely to be approved by the committee and confirmed by the full Senate. If confirmed, one of his first tasks will be to oversee the prosecution of the pro-Trump rioters who stormed the US Capitol on 6 January.
As attorney general, Mr Barr was one of the most loyal members of Mr Trump’s administration until his last month in office when he broke with the president conceding that the Justice Department did not find any fraud on a scale large enough to influence the outcome of the election.
He said that claims of election fraud had precipitated the riot at the US Capitol, though he did not go as far as to say that Mr Trump’s actions amounted to incitement of insurrection as charged in his second impeachment.