(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden announces Justice Department nominees at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware
By Sarah N. Lynch and Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Vanita Gupta, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the Justice Department’s No. 3 post, expressed regret on Tuesday for her past “harsh rhetoric” and said she does not favor cutting police funding as she responded during her U.S. Senate confirmation hearing to Republican criticism.
The Senate Judiciary Committee began its hearing into the Democratic president’s nominations of Gupta as associate attorney general and Lisa Monaco as deputy attorney general, the department’s No. 2 job.
Gupta responded to complaints from the panel’s top Republican, Chuck Grassley, who read aloud past posts from her Twitter feed in which she attacked Republicans. Grassley accused Gupta of “strident liberal advocacy,” reflecting opposition to her confirmation from some Republicans and conservative activists.
Gupta pledged to work with law enforcement and with Republicans if confirmed.
“I regret the harsh rhetoric that I have used in the past at times in the last several years,” she said. “I wish I could take it back.”
Gupta’s post oversees the department’s civil and civil rights divisions, as well as antitrust, environmental, grant-making and community policing matters.
One conservative group, the Judicial Crisis Network, recently starting running a television ad incorrectly claiming Gupta told Reuters in a article last June that she supports defunding police – a statement she did not make.
Gupta addressed the ad directly on Tuesday, saying: “I do not support defunding the police.”
Monaco is a former prosecutor who also served as homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to former President Barack Obama. That job entails overseeing the department’s criminal and national security matters as well as its 93 U.S. attorneys spread around the country.
In her opening statement released by the committee, Monaco said the Justice Department was at an “inflection point” as it battles violent extremism – foreign and domestic.
“Unfortunately, and concerningly, the domestic terrorism threat is one that is metastasizing,” Monaco told the panel.
If confirmed, Monaco would help oversee the department’s investigation into the Jan. 6 deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump’s supporters, an event she described as “an attack that cut to our country’s core.”
Gupta is expected to face a tougher confirmation battle than Monaco.
“If confirmed, I will aggressively ensure that the Justice Department is independent from partisan influence,” Gupta said in her opening remarks.
The committee previously approved Biden’s attorney general nominee, Merrick Garland, in a bipartisan 15-7 vote, and the Senate is expected to confirm him to the post as soon as Wednesday.
Now with the law firm O’Melveny & Myers, Monaco has extensive experience as a prosecutor and attorney on national security matters.
Monaco’s top legal clients have included Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), Humana (NYSE:HUM), Kia Motors Corp and Harvard University, which had been under investigation by the Trump administration over how it considers race during its student admissions process, according to her financial disclosure form.
Gupta previously served as acting assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, overseeing high-profile investigations into systemic abuses by police departments in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.
Grassley suggested he is inclined to support Monaco, saying he applauded Biden’s decision to nominate “a serious person” to the No. 2 position.
On Gupta, however, Grassley was more cautious. While he applauded her for working with Republicans previously, including with his office on criminal justice reform, Grassley also said he has concerns about her record of “partisan” attacks against Republicans.
Biden nominee Gupta voices regret for past ‘harsh rhetoric’