Now a federal appeals court judge and a potential Supreme Court nominee, Judge Garland was then the highest-ranking Justice Department official dispatched to Oklahoma City in the aftermath of the bombing. He spent the ensuing weeks helping to start the case, and later supervised the prosecutors from department headquarters.
For Judge Garland, the Oklahoma City bombing was the centerpiece of a constellation of federal criminal cases in which he played a role before President Bill Clinton appointed him to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1997. …
Friends and former colleagues say that the Oklahoma City case in particular had a lasting emotional impact on Mr. Garland. At the time, he was the second-ranking figure in the office of the deputy attorney general, Jamie S. Gorelick, a job with broad responsibilities over the entire department. But, Ms. Gorelick recalled, he insisted that she send him to Oklahoma City to help begin the investigation in person.
“He not only volunteered,” Ms. Gorelick recalled, “he basically said, ‘You need to let me go.’ ”
Several prosecutors who worked on the case said Mr. Garland worked tirelessly to help run the investigation from a command center in a telephone company building blocks from the blast site; overseeing search warrants, interacting with other law enforcement agencies and meeting with surviving victims. He appeared in court for the preliminary hearings of the two main suspects, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.
Former colleagues also recalled that Mr. Garland insisted on doing the investigation by the book, like obtaining subpoenas even when phone and truck rental companies volunteered to simply hand over evidence, to avoid any future trial problems. He also made sure there was a prosecutor responsible for keeping victims and relatives informed about the case as it developed.
Mr. Garland felt such a connection to the case that he later asked Ms. Gorelick to let him lead the trial team. But, she said, she rejected his request because he was needed at Justice Department headquarters. Instead, he helped pick the trial team and supervised it from afar.
In that role, he was involved in major decisions including seeking the death penalty for Mr. McVeigh and Mr. Nichols. Mr. Garland apparently did not object to that proposal. (Mr. McVeigh was found guilty and executed in 2001. Mr. Nichols is serving a sentence of life without parole.) …