"We will not be intimidated," he told the House Judiciary Committee.
Attorney General Merrick Garland testified before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday in a high-stakes hearing where Republican lawmakers lambasted him over his department's handling of criminal probes into former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden, the events of Jan. 6 and other high-profile investigations.
"The fix is in," chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said as he kicked the hearing off. "Even with the face-saving indictment of Hunter Biden last week, everyone knows the fix is in."
Jordan accused Garland several times of "slow walking" the Hunter Biden investigation to benefit President Biden.
But Garland, in his opening statement, took criticism of his tenure head-on -- arguing that some Republicans' efforts to target career officials is "dangerous" at a time when threats against public servants are on the rise.
"We will not be intimidated," Garland said. "We will do our jobs free from outside interference. And we will not back down from defending our democracy."
The appearance is Garland's first time sitting before lawmakers since special counsel Jack Smith indicted Trump for both his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House as well as his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Democratic ranking member of the committee, in his opening statement countered "extreme MAGA Republicans have poisoned our vital oversight work" in an effort to distract from the legal troubles the former president is facing.
Garland said Wednesday he wasn't instructed to charge Trump after being pressed on the former president's comments this past weekend that Biden directed the attorney general to act.
"No one has told me to indict," Garland said, "and in this case, the decision to indict was made by the special counsel."
Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him and has denied any wrongdoing.
Garland's testimony comes nearly a week after special counsel David Weiss, also appointed by Garland, indicted Hunter Biden on felony gun charges after a plea deal between Weiss and Hunter Biden's lawyers fell apart in court in July.
Garland was peppered with questions about the timeline of the Hunter Biden investigation. In one exchange, Rep. Jordan levied several allegations about Hunter Biden and Burisma -- the Ukrainian gas company on which Hunter Biden was a board member, accusing the DOJ of letting prosecutors "slow walk" the probe.
The attorney general emphasized he gave Weiss authority and independence to bring the case as he saw fit.
"One more fact that is important, and that is that this investigation is being conducted by Mr. Weiss, an appointee of President Trump," Garland responded. "You will, at the appropriate time, have the opportunity to ask Mr. Weiss that question and he will no doubt address it in the public report that will be transmitted to the Congress."
Garland also pushed back against Republicans' claims that the Justice Department is seeking to tilt political scales in Democrats' favor leading up to the 2024 election -- and vehemently denied he has taken any directives from President Biden or the White House with respect to any criminal investigation.
"Our job is not to take orders from the president, from Congress, or from anyone else, about who or what to criminally investigate," Garland said. "As the president himself has said, and I reaffirm today: I am not the president's lawyer. I will add that I am not Congress's prosecutor. The Justice Department works for the American people. Our job is to follow the facts and the law, and that is what we do."
Several Republicans on the committee, including Jordan, have previously threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings against Garland over the department's handling of the criminal probe into Hunter Biden.
Jordan has cited testimony before Congress from IRS whistleblowers who have claimed the president's son received preferential treatment from investigators, and that Garland's past testimony before Congress claiming Weiss was given ultimate authority to make charging decisions was inaccurate.
Both Garland and Weiss, in letters to Congress, have disputed the whistleblower's claims.
Garland has argued his appointments of all three special counsels represents a commitment to ensure the integrity and independence of each of their investigations, and repeated that assertion in fielding questions from Republicans who have sought to portray them as evidence of politicization by the Justice Department.
"Our job is to pursue justice, without fear or favor," Garland said. "Our job is not to do what is politically convenient."
A third special counsel appointed by Garland, Robert Hur, continues to examine circumstances surrounding documents with classified markings that were found in President Biden's home in Delaware as well as a post-vice presidency think tank in Washington.
Hunter Biden has not yet entered a plea as part of his case, though his attorneys have said they will fight the charges brought last week. President Biden has denied wrongdoing in his handling of classified materials and vowed to fully cooperate with special counsel Hur's investigation.
White House spokesperson Ian Sams called the hearing a "distraction" and said House Republicans have "cranked up a circus of a hearing full of lies and disinformation with the sole goal of baselessly attacking President Biden and his family."
In one particularly animated exchange, Garland and Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., clashed over a memo written by an analyst in the FBI's Richmond field office about "radical traditional" Catholics within the bureau. Both FBI Director Christopher Wray and Garland both immediately recalled the document and called it not representative of the department's feelings on Catholics.
Garland pushed back on Van Drew's questions about the memo, at times raising his voice.
"The idea that someone with my family background would discriminate against any religion is so outraged us is so absurd," Garland said. In his opening statement Wednesday, Garland got choked up as he spoke about his how his family fled religious persecution in Eastern Europe and why it influences his work as a public servant.
Democrats on the committee asked Garland about the impact of threats to federal agents and calls from some Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates to defund the FBI.
"Defunding the FBI would leave the United States naked to the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party, to the attacks by Iranians on American citizens and attempts to assassinate former officials up to the Russian aggression, to North Korean cyber attacks, to violent crime in the United States, which the FBI helps to fight against, to all kinds of espionage, to domestic violent extremists who have attacked our churches, our synagogues, our mosques and who have killed individuals out of racial hatred," he said. "I cannot imagine the consequences of defunding the FBI, but they would be catastrophic."
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., questioned Garland on the misdemeanor charge against Ray Epps announced Tuesday by the DOJ. Epps, a former Oath Keeper, became the subject of conspiracy theories around Jan. 6 -- including Republican claims he was an undercover federal agent. Massie called Epps' charge a "joke" compared to others indicted for their participation in the Capitol attack, and asked Garland how many assets of the government were present on that day.
"In the cases that were filed with respect to Jan. 6, the Justice Department prosecutors provided whatever information they had about the question that you're asking," Garland responded, after stating he had no personal knowledge of the issue of whether federal agents were in the crowd. "With respect to Mr. Epps, the FBI has said that he was not an employee or informant of of the FBI."
ABC News' Alexandra Hutzler and Sarah Beth Hensley contributed to this report.