Top DOJ nominees vow independence; Vanita Gupta opposes moves to defund the police
Vanita Gupta, a former Justice Department official focusing on civil rights, is president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The organization is among many leveraging its resources to help Americans, especially Black and other people of color, navigate a voting system that can be discouraging. (Photo: EDWARD C. JONES)
Two top Justice Department nominees vowed Tuesday to safeguard the agency from the influence of partisan politics and confront the mounting threat posed by domestic extremists laid bare by the deadly assault on the Capitol.
At their joint confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, deputy attorney general nominee Lisa Monaco and associate attorney general pick Vanita Gupta – slated to fill the second and third-ranking posts at the department – called for re-claiming the department’s independence as its “North Star.”
“The Justice Department is at an inflection point,” Monaco told lawmakers. “Never has the department’s role in protecting our national security and the safety of the American people been more important… Our response to the shocking events of January 6th, an attack that cut to our country’s core, and I know so personally affected many in this room, is nothing less than the defense of our democracy.”
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Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster, AP)
Monaco, who once served as chief of Justice’s National Security Division, cast the domestic extremist threat as “metastasizing across the country” and pledged to determine what is “mobilizing people to violence.”
‘I do not support defunding police’
Gupta, who has faced a drumbeat from conservative groups who have branded her as an opponent of law enforcement, quickly sought to counter that criticism while expressing regret for “harsh” social media commentary directed at the Trump administration.
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Gupta had regularly taken aim at the Trump Justice Department and former Attorney General William Barr, describing his leadership as “grossly” political.
“I do not support defunding police,” said Gupta, who served as chief of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in the Obama administration.
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Of her past social media critiques, the nominee said: “I wish I could take it back, but i can’t.”
Much of the committee’s attention was directed at Gupta, whose recent opposition has given rise to a powerful alliance that is rallying to her defense.
Rarely have police chiefs and law enforcement’s powerful labor organizations joined forces, but they are offering unmitigated support for Gupta, despite her close scrutiny of police departments as the acting Civil Rights chief.
“She always worked with us to find common ground even when that seemed impossible,” said Patrick Yoes, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union, in a letter to the Senate panel. “Although in some instances our disagreements remain, her open and candid approach has created a working relationship that is grounded in mutual respect and understanding.
“This extensive interaction with Ms. Gupta over a period of years,” Yoes said, “informs our belief that, if confirmed as Associate Attorney General, she will continue her practice of working with us to find solutions.”
The support has been echoed by current and former police chiefs who cast her as a “strategic problem solver” who comes to the job at a time when public confidence in law enforcement has been called into question.
“Ms. Gupta has demonstrated a seriousness and willingness to understand the intense challenges, and even dangers, facing police officers with the intent of improving policing at large without degrading the overwhelming number of brave and honorable police officers,” a coalition of current and former law enforcement leaders wrote to the committee.”
‘Without fear or favor’
Without directly referring to the Trump administration, both nominees stressed a need to re-set a department roiled by politics during the past four years.
Monaco, who also served as White House homeland security advisor during the Obama administration, promised to “affirm the values of the Department of Justice without fear or favor.”
“I will aggressively ensure that the Justice Department is independent from partisan influence,” Gupta said. “That independence is part of a long tradition, and it is vital to the fair administration of justice and preserving the public’s trust and confidence in our legal system.”
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