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Under fire, Biden nominee Gupta voices regret for ‘harsh rhetoric’

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(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden announces Justice Department nominees at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware

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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 faced sharp Republican criticism during her U.S. Senate confirmation hearing.

The Senate Judiciary Committee conducted 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. Biden’s fellow Democrats on the committee voiced support for both nominees, but Republicans attacked Gupta.

Senator Chuck Grassley, the panel’s top Republican, read aloud past posts from Gupta’s Twitter feed in which she assailed Republicans. He accused Gupta of “strident liberal advocacy” and excessive partisanship, reflecting opposition to her Senate confirmation from some Republicans and conservative activists.

“Her Twitter feed has painted Republicans with a broad brush, describing the Republican National Convention as three nights of ‘racism, xenophobia and outrageous lies,'” Grassley said.

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,” Gupta said. “I wish I could take it back.”

Republican Senator Mike Lee sought to paint Gupta as a hypocrite, noting that she previously urged the Senate to refuse to accept an apology by one of Republican former President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees who had written racially insensitive comments as a college student.

“You told him that his apology was too late and too self-interested,” Lee said. “Is that something that we ought to apply to you?”

“I am a believer in second chances, and redemption,” Gupta replied. “And I would ask for that.”

If confirmed, Gupta would oversee the department’s civil and civil rights divisions, as well as antitrust, environmental, grant-making and community policing matters. Gupta previously served as acting assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division under Democratic former President Barack Obama, overseeing high-profile investigations into systemic abuses by police departments in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, the committee chairman, called Republicans hypocritical for criticizing her, noting they “sat by silently while there was no Senate-confirmed associate attorney general for nearly three years” under Trump.

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.”

Durbin said, “It is sad and pitiful that this exceptional nominee has been targeted by a right-wing dark-money organization which is running an ad on television that make patently false claims.”

Biden’s nominee for Office of Management and Budget director, Neera Tanden, withdrew from consideration last week after facing mounting criticism for her previous social media posts blasting lawmakers. In that instance, Tanden had tried to delete some of the posts.

Monaco is expected to face a smoother confirmation process than Gupta. Monaco is a former prosecutor who also served as homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to Obama. The post to which she has been nominated oversees the department’s criminal and national security matters as well as its 93 U.S. attorneys spread around the country.

Now with the law firm O’Melveny & Myers, Monaco has extensive experience as a prosecutor and attorney on national security matters. In her testimony, 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 pro-Trump mob, an event she called “an attack that cut to our country’s core.”

The committee previously approved Biden’s attorney general nominee, Merrick Garland. The Senate is expected to confirm him as soon as Wednesday.

Under fire, Biden nominee Gupta voices regret for ‘harsh rhetoric’

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