Republican senators are raising concerns about Vanita Gupta, a Biden nominee for a top position in the Justice Department, claiming she “misled” them while under oath this month.
President Joe Biden nominated Gupta, the CEO of the left-of-center Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and former head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, to be his associate attorney general.
A committee vote on her nomination is set for Thursday. But even if Republicans vote unanimously against Gupta in the evenly split panel, a tie will advance her to the Senate floor where Democrats can break a 50-50 tie with Vice President Kamala Harris.
“Vanita Gupta repeatedly misled the Judiciary Committee during her hearing, refused to answer our written questions, and now it appears she wasn’t forthcoming with even her initial paperwork,” Republican Sen. Tom Cotton told the Washington Examiner. “Her nomination should not move forward until she answers for this misconduct under oath.”
A spokesperson for GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn told the Washington Examiner: “Vanita Gupta is a radical nominee driven by partisan ambitions and a left-wing agenda.”
All 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Democratic Chairman Dick Durbin this week, asking him to set up a second hearing with Gupta.
“While under oath, Vanita Gupta misled the Committee on at least four issues: (1) Her support for eliminating qualified immunity; (2) her support for decriminalizing all drugs; (3) her support for defunding the police; and (4) her death penalty record,” the GOP letter said. “Unfortunately, in her responses a week later to our written questions, Ms. Gupta was no more forthcoming.”
The Illinois Democrat dismissed the GOP demands on Thursday evening. Gupta said “she regrets the rhetoric she has used on occasion,” according to Durbin, who said, “A second hearing on Ms. Gupta’s nomination is unwarranted and unnecessary.”
Beyond Gupta’s testimony is her broader work for the Leadership Conference, where she was a registered lobbyist.
Biden signed an “Executive Order on Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel” on Inauguration Day requiring all appointees to agree to ethics obligations, “which I understand are binding on me and are enforceable under law.” The “Revolving Door Ban” said: “I will not for a period of two years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.”
The Justice Department directed the Washington Examiner to Gupta's agreement filed with the Office of Government Ethics.
“Ms. Gupta understands that as an appointee she will be required to sign the Ethics Pledge (Exec. Order No. 13989) and that she will be bound by it,” DOJ ethics official Lee Lofthus wrote, adding that “because she was a lobbyist, Ms. Gupta will be required to recuse from any particular matter on which she lobbied and the specific issue areas of those matters for a period of two years after she is appointed.”
The government transparency website Open Secrets says Gupta lobbied on topics including government issues, health issues, immigration, law enforcement, civil rights, the Constitution, and more.
Gupta's Senate Lobbying Disclosure filings list her as lobbying on hundreds of issues, many of which she may oversee at the Justice Department, including weighing in on bills in the arenas of voting rights and immigration. Her lobbying related to criminal policies such as bail reform, policing, financial regulation, civil asset forfeiture, drug sentencing, discrimination, hate crimes, and more. She also lobbied in opposition to the confirmations for dozens of now-sitting judges. She is listed as lobbying on other hot-button issues such as Washington, D.C., statehood, Planned Parenthood funding, family separation, and impeachment.
Norman Eisen, former President Barack Obama’s ethics czar, penned a Politico op-ed in January, arguing, “The Biden plan puts that core Obama restriction for lobbyists back in place, barring them from jobs in agencies they previously sought to influence.” Gupta was listed among the Hill’s “Top Lobbyists 2020.”
Gupta was already under fire by Republicans for comments appearing to endorse defunding the police, something she says she does not support despite her previous testimony touting Black Lives Matter’s calls to decrease police budgets, which the Biden transition team claims was just part of Gupta's advocacy on behalf of civil rights groups.
“By any measure, that’s advocating defunding the police,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said at Gupta's confirmation hearing. “Respectfully, I disagree with how you’re characterizing that,” Gupta replied.
Gupta repeated that defense in follow-up written responses this month. “I do not support, and have never supported, defunding the police,” Gupta said.
Still, Republicans were unmoved.
“Any claim that Ms. Gupta was not aware that the policies she espouses are what other activists mean by ‘defund the police’ directly contradicts how she described her own policies just months ago,” the GOP letter argued.
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