President-elect Joe Biden introduced four Justice Department nominees who will become the top law enforcement officials in the country Thursday by reinforcing how they would restore integrity to the department in the aftermath of rioting at the Capitol.
Biden said "a riotous mob" and "insurrectionists" interrupted Congress counting the Electoral College votes that confirmed he beat President Donald Trump. But, he said, his appointees would restore integrity and independence to the department, and prevent political or partisan favoritism in pursuing cases.
Biden also said the Trump administration treated the mob differently than Black Lives Matter protesters last summer, when federal authorities tear-gassed peaceful protesters so that Trump could have his picture taken outside a church holding a Bible.
"Nobody can tell me that if it was a group of Black Lives Matter protesters that they wouldn't have been treated differently than the thugs who stormed the Capitol," Biden said at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware. "We all know that is true. And it is unacceptable – totally unacceptable."
Biden noted that the Justice Department was created in 1870 to enforce laws after the Civil War and combat the early incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan.
“There is no more important and heartfelt effort on my part than restoring the independence and integrity of our Justice Department,” Biden said.
Cabinet nominees: Joe Biden will nominate Merrick Garland as attorney general
Biden nominated federal Judge Merrick Garland, whose nomination to the Supreme Court during the Obama administration languished for nearly a year in the Senate, to serve as attorney general. Garland is now chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, nicknamed the second-highest court in the country.
Biden also nominated Lisa Monaco, a former Homeland Security adviser in the Obama administration, to serve as deputy attorney general; Kristen Clarke, executive director of the National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, to lead the department’s Civil Rights Division; and Vanita Gupta, a former acting civil rights chief, to serve as associate attorney general.
Garland has served on the court since 1997 after prosecuting significant cases for the Justice Department, including the charges against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
Garland called his return to the department a homecoming. He said a foundation of the rule of law is that similar cases are treated the same, not differently depending on the participant’s party, power, affluence or race.
“The rule of law is not just some lawyer’s turn of phrase. It is the very foundation of our democracy,” said Garland, who also noted the reason for the department’s founding after the Civil War to ensure compliance with the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution.
"These principles – ensuring the rule of law and making the promise of equal justice under law real – are the great principles upon which the Department of Justice was founded and for which it must always stand," Garland said. "They echo today in priorities that lie before us, from ensuring racial equity in our justice system to meeting the evolving threat of violent extremism."
Monaco previously worked at the Justice Department for 15 years, serving as a prosecutor and eventually as assistant attorney general for national security. She became chief of staff to former FBI Director Robert Mueller and served as a White House adviser on homeland security and counterterrorism.
Monaco served as counsel to former Attorney General Janet Reno, who hung a portrait of a predecessor, Ed Levi, who reaffirmed the integrity and independence of the department after the Watergate investigation of the early 1970s. When former President Gerald Ford asked Levi what the department needed most, Monaco said he replied: "A soul."
“The soul of the Justice Department lives in the integrity of its career professionals, in the independence of its investigations and its prosecutions, and in the principles it brings to bear as it stewards the ideal of justice in America," Monaco said.
Gupta, the daughter of Indian immigrants who urged Biden online to appoint diverse officials to serve in his administration, is the president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. She previously oversaw the Justice Department's investigations of systemic police abuse in several cities, including Chicago, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.
Gupta recalled how she felt unsafe as a child while eating at a McDonald's with her sister, mother and grandmother when skinheads began calling them slurs and throwing food at them. But she said the incident stuck with her as a reminder that people of courage must work to protect the freedom of individuals – that freedoms don't protect themselve.
"Yesterday's horrific events at the Capitol reminded us that our democracy cannot be taken for granted, that our nation has a long history of disinformation, white supremacist violence, mob violence," Gupta said. "I am honored to return to a department that I know will push every day for justice, accountability and equality under the law."
Clarke, who is the Black daughter of Jamaican immigrants and also met online with Biden to urge greater diversity among appointees, advocated creation of a voter-access commission because of the continuing litigation and disputes with state officials over voting rights.
Her group fought in court to protect voting rights throughout the primaries and general election. As a Justice Department attorney previously, Clark investigated police misconduct and worked on advancing voting rights.
"The clarion call of equal justice under law is what binds us together as a nation," Clarke said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden Cabinet picks: Merrick Garland introduced as attorney general