WATCH: Mike Lee Grills Merrick Garland on Vanita Gupta, Kristen Clarke

Senate Judiciary Committee

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) pressed U.S. Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland about the controversial past views and statements of two other Department of Justice nominees, Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke, in a Senate hearing Monday.

Gupta is President Joe Biden’s nominee to be Associate Attorney General. She led the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama, and subsequently joined a left-wing organization, helped lead opposition to the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She co-wrote an article in October 2019 in which she stated: “As much as the federal courts can protect our civil rights, they can also abandon the rule of law — and abandon us, leaving our communities to the mercy of people and institutions driven by hate, bigotry and fear of any threat to the status quo. Republicans have planted the seeds of this takeover for decades — and now, they are leaping into action.”

Clarke is Biden’s nominee to head the Civil Rights Division. As a Harvard student in 1994, she published a letter in the student newspaper suggesting that black people are superior to white people. She also invited an antisemitic lecturer to campus and defended his views as based on “indisputable fact.”

Lee began by asking Garland if he believed that there was necessarily a racist motivation behind efforts to purge voter rolls of people who had died, or moved out of state. Garland said that he did not want to speculate on motives, but seemed to allow that there could be non-racist motives.

The following exchange then ensued between Lee and Garland:

Sen. Lee: Do you believe Republicans in the United States — and by Republicans, I mean as a whole — are determined to “leave our communities to the mercy of people and institutions driven by hate, bigotry, and fear of any threat to the status quote?”

Judge Garland: I don’t make generalizations about members of political parties. I would never do that.

Sen. Lee: I appreciate that, and I wouldn’t expect otherwise. The reason I raise these ones, these are questions that have been drawn from comments made by Vanita Gupta, who has been nominated to be Associate Attorney General [and] has advocated for each of these positions.

Judge Garland: Well, Senator, I know Vanita Gupta now quite well — I didn’t know her before, but since the nomination, I’ve gotten a chance to talk with her and speak with her. I have to tell you, I regard her as a person of great integrity and a person who is dedicated to the mission of the department, and particularly equal justice under the law.

Sen. Lee: I’m not asking you to weigh in on her as a person, I’m just talking about the comments. Let’s move on. Would an individual’s past statements, statements in the past, as an adult, declaring that one racial group is superior to another, would statements like that be relevant to an evaluation of whether such a person should be put in charge of running the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division?

Judge Garland: So, Senator, I have read in the last few days these allegations about Kristin Clarke, who I have also gotten to know, who I also trust, who I believe is a person of integrity, whose views about [the] Civil Rights Division I have discussed with her and they are in line with my own. I have every reason to want her. She is an experienced former line prosecutor of hate crimes and we need somebody like that to be running —

Sen. Lee: I’m asking about the statement, I’m not asking about her as a person. I’m asking about the statement. Would —  in the abstract — would someone who has made that comment, would that comment itself be relevant to the question whether that person, having made that statement, should be put in charge of running the Civil Rights Division?

Judge Garland: All i can tell you is i have had many conversations with her, about her views about that, about the Civil Rights Divisinon, about what kind of matters she would investigate —

Sen. Lee: What about anti-semitic comments? Would those be relevant to someone wanting to run the —

Judge Garland: You know my views about antisemitism. No one needs to question those, obviously.

Sen. Lee: I’m not questioning you at all.

Judge Garland: I know you’re not, but I also want you to know I’m a pretty good judge of what an antisemite is, and I do not believe she is an antisemite. And I do not believe she is discriminatory in any sense.

Sen. Lee: Okay, tell me this, judge. You are a man of integrity and one who honors and respects the laws. What assurances can you give us — as one who has been nominated to serve as Attorney General of the United States, that you, if confirmed as Attorney General of the United States, what assurances can you give Americans who are Republican, who are pro-life, who are religious, people members of certain minority groups — you know, in short, more than half the country, telling them that the U.S. Department of Justice, if you’ll confirmed will protect them if Department of Justice leaders have condoned radical positions like those I have described.

Judge Garland: Look, I will say again. I don’t believe that either Vanita or Kristen condone those positions and I have complete faith in them, but we are a leadership team, along with Lisa Monaco, that will run the department and the final decision is mine. The buck stops with me, as Harry S. Truman said. And I will assure the people that you’re talking about, I am a strong believer in religious liberty, and there will not be any discrimination under my watch.

Garland appeared to lose his composure as he defended Gupta and Clarke. Senate Judiciary Chair Richard Durbin (D-IL) suggestions that questions about other nominees wait until they have the chance to appear, but Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said that she appreciated the chance to hear Garland defend the nominees who had been chosen to work with him.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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