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Live Coverage as President-elect Biden Condemns Insurrection, Announces Justice Department Nominees; Merrick Garland Accepts Nomination; Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Calls for 25th Amendment. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 07, 2021 - 14:00   ET



JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- what we believe, what we will be. At the center of that belief is one of the oldest principles this nation has long held: We are a government of laws, not of men, not of the people. Of laws. I said it many times in the campaign.

Our democratic institutions is (ph) not relics of another age, they're what set this nation apart, they're the guardrails of our democracy. And there is no present (ph) -- there's -- that's why there is no president who is a king, no Congress that's a House of Lords. A judiciary doesn't serve the will of the president or exist to protect him or her. We have three coequal branches of government, coequal.

Our president is not above the law. Justice serves the people, it doesn't protect the powerful. Justice is blind.

What we saw yesterday, in plain view, was another violation of a fundamental tenet of this nation. Not only did we see the failure to protect one of the three branches of our government, we also saw a clear failure to carry out equal justice. Should be -- we used to say in the Senate, "Excuse a point of personal privilege."

A little over an hour and a half after the chaos started, I got a text from my granddaughter, Finnegan Biden, who's a senior in her last semester at the University of Pennsylvania. She sent me a photo of military people, in full military gear, scores of them, lining the steps of the Lincoln Memorial because of protests by Black Lives Matter. She said, "Pop, this isn't fair."

No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, there wouldn't have been -- they wouldn't have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol. We all know that's true, and it is unacceptable, totally unacceptable.

The American people saw it in plain view, and I hope it sensitized them to what we have to do.

Not many people know it. When Justice Garland and I were talking, we talked about -- I think he raised it -- the reason the Justice Department was formed in the first place. It was back in 1870. We didn't have a Justice Department before that at the Cabinet.

It was formed in 1870 to enforce the Civil Rights Amendment that grew out of the Civil War, 13th, 14th and 15 Amendments, to stand up to the Klan, to stand up to racism, to take on domestic terrorism. This original spirit must again guide and animate its work.

So as we stand here today, we do so in the wake of yesterday's events, events that could not more -- have vividly demonstrated some of the most important work we have to do in this nation: Committing ourselves to the rule of law in this nation, invigorating our domestic and democratic institutions, carrying out equal justice under the law in America.

There is no more important place for us to do this work than the Department of Justice that has been so politicized. There is no more important people to carry out this work than the people I am announcing today. More than anything, we need to restore the honor, the integrity, the independence of the Department of Justice in this nation that has been so badly damaged. And so many former leaders of that department, in both parties, have so testified and stated that.

I want to be clear to those who lead this department, who you will serve. You won't work for me, you are not the president or the vice president's lawyer. Your loyalty is not to me, it's to the law, the Constitution, the people of this nation, to guarantee justice.

For attorney general of the United States, I nominate a man of impeccable integrity: Judge Merrick Garland, one of the most respected jurists of our time, brilliant yet humble, distinguished yet modest, full of character and decency.

Supreme Court clerk, served in the Justice Department during the Carter, Bush 41 and Clinton administrations, where he embraced the department's core values of independence and integrity, a federal prosecutor who took on terrorism and corruption and violent crime, always with the utmost professionalism and the duty to the oath he swore.

Nominated by President Clinton to be a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, considered the second-most powerful court in America. (inaudible) such a long and distinguished career, Judge Garland has earned the praise and admiration of members of the bench and bar, and politicians of both parties.

And despite his busy schedule and prestigious positions, he still makes time to volunteer regularly, tutoring students in northeast D.C., as he's done for 20 years. It's about character, it's about character.


It was no surprise why President Obama nominated him, Judge Garland, to the Supreme Court. As I said, he embodies honor, decency, integrity, fidelity to the rule of law and judicial independence. To (ph) those same traits, he will now bring, as attorney general of the United States -- not as a personal attorney to the president, but as the people's lawyer.

BIDEN: He'll restore trust in the rule of law and equal justice under the law, and I fully expect, from the discussions I've had, that he will receive a fair hearing and a swift confirmation. And once he's confirmed, I will move promptly to nominate his replacement on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and I expect that the distinguished nominee will receive a prompt and fair hearing, as well.

For Deputy Attorney General, I nominate one of the most selfless people I've worked with, one of the brightest I've worked with. I worked with her during the last administration, a 15 year veteran of the Justice Department, Lisa Monaco. Lisa knows the department inside and out. She is the definition of what a public servant should be -- decent, trusted, honorable -- and I might add I embarrassed her a moment ago with the other colleagues -- and selfless.

I offered her other positions with "greater consequence," quote- unquote, more prestige but she wanted to work with you, Judge, she wanted to go back to the Justice Department, a top flight prosecutor who took on public corruption, corporate fraud and violent crime.

Chief of Staff, the Director of the FBI, the first woman ever confirmed as Assistant Attorney General for National Security, where she elevated cybersecurity to a top priority and where it's even more consequential today than it was then. At the White House, she was a top homeland security and counterterrorism advisor to President Obama and me at every one of the national security meetings. She coordinated our fight against Al Qaida and ISIL. She helped lead our response to the Ebola crisis. When the bombs went off at the finish line on Patriot's Day in Boston, her hometown, she coordinated the federal government's response with local and state law enforcement to get to the bottom of this horrible tragedy. Lisa, I know -- I know you will help restore integrity and independence to the Department of Justice that you so revere.

As Associate Attorney General, the number three job of the department, I nominate Vanita Gupta, a woman I've known for some time, one of the most respected civil rights lawyers in America. Started her career at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, then onto the ACLU, both organizations to which I belong, and then to the Justice Department during the Obama-Biden administration, where she led the Civil Rights Division. At every step, with every case, she fought for greater equity and the right -- to right the wrongs of a justice system where they existed, and she's done so by bringing people together, earning praise from across the ideological spectrum for her approach to solving some of the thorniest problems we face. During the Obama-Biden administration, Vanita was put in charge of investigating the abuse of power in police departments in Ferguson, Missouri and other communities torn apart by acts of violence and racial injustice. She helped institute common sense police reforms to build greater equity, safety and trust. She -- she was commended for her work by both law enforcement and those advocating for changes in the criminal justice system. That's a rare achievement and it speaks volumes about her capacity to unite people in common purpose, which is what this is all about -- uniting the American people. Born in Philadelphia, a proud daughter of immigrants from India -- that sound familiar?... (LAUGHTER)

[14:10:00] ... if confirmed, Vanita will be the first woman of color to serve as Associate Attorney General, and I am grateful -- I'm grateful that Vanita is leaving her current job, leaving one of the premier civil rights organizations in the world, as she answers the call to serve once again, to ensure that our justice system is even more fair and more equitable. Thank you.

For Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, I -- I nominate Kristen Clarke, who has spent her career advocating for greater equality and equity in our justice system. The daughter of Jamaican immigrants -- now don't think this has been designed to you (ph).


I'm still looking for an Irishman. All kidding aside, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, Kristen is also one of the most distinguished civil rights attorneys in America. A proud native of Brooklyn, New York, she began her career -- her legal career in the very same office she's now nominated to lead. Her previous tenure with the Justice Department saw her take on some of the most complex civil rights cases, from voting rights to redistricting challenges to prosecuting hate crimes and human trafficking. She's earned accolades throughout her career, including as the head of the Civil Rights Bureau for her home state of New York, where she's led the charge to end the school of prison (ph) pipeline and root out discrimination in housing and in law enforcement. She currently leads one of the nation's top civil rights organizations, where she promotes greater equity in voting rights, in our education system, in our housing system, in our justice system and so much more. Now, she'll return full circle to pursue the vital work where her career began. The Civil Rights Division represents the moral center of the Department of Justice and the heart of that fundamental American ideal that we're all created equal and all deserve to be treated equally. I'm honored you've accepted the call to return to make real the promise for all Americans.

To each of you, I thank you for your service. And to your families and to the American people, this is a team that will restore your trust and faith in our institutions of democracy. I chaired the Judiciary Committee for many years. One of my goals in running in the first place, you may recall -- I said when I saw those people coming out of the fields in Charlottesville, shouting hate, a young woman killed, and when asked, the President said "there are good people on both sides." That's literally why I ran.

So there's no more important and heartfelt effort on my part than restoring -- restoring the independence and integrity of our Justice Department. So may God bless you all, may God protect our troops and those who are sworn to protect the American people.

BIDEN: And I will turn it over to the team, starting with the next Attorney of the United States -- Attorney General of the United States, Judge Merrick Garland. Thank you. [14:15:00] GARLAND: Thank you, President-elect Biden, Vice President- elect Harris, for asking me to serve as the attorney general of the United States. Thanks always to my wife, children, sisters, late parents, without whose unstinting support I would not be standing here today. Thanks also to my grandparents, whose decision to undertake the difficult journey to America made all things possible for my family.

If confirmed, I look forward to working with these wonderful DOJ veterans -- Lisa Monaco, Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke.

Entering the Department of Justice will be a kind of homecoming for me. My very first job after serving as a judicial law clerk was to work as a special assistant to then-Attorney General Ben Civiletti. Ed Levi and Griffin Bell, the first attorneys general appointed after Watergate, had enunciated the norms that would ensure the department's adherence to the rule of law. Attorney General Civiletti undertook to continue their work of crafting those norms into written policies. Those policies included guaranteeing the independence of the department from partisan influence in law enforcement investigations, regulating communications with the White House, establishing guidelines for FBI investigations, ensuring respect for the professionalism of DOJ's lawyers and agents and setting out principles to guide the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Those policies became part of the DNA of every career lawyer and agent. If confirmed, my mission as attorney general will be to reaffirm those policies as the principles upon which the department operates.

As Ed Levi said at his own swearing-in, "Nothing can more weaken the quality of life or more imperil the realization of the goals we all hold dear than our failure to make clear by words and deed that our law is not the instrument of partisan purpose."

In the decades that followed my first tour of duty at the department, I returned again and again in different roles: as a career line assistant U.S. attorney, as a Criminal Division supervisor, and finally, as a senior official in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General. In the latter role, I worked with every component of the department on issues ranging from civil rights and antitrust to domestic terrorism and national security. I also worked directly with line prosecutors and agents in offices from Oklahoma City to Billings, Montana, from Sacramento, California to New York City.

Attorney General, later, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson family -- famously said, "The citizens' safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness; who seeks truth, and not victims; who serves the law, and not factional purposes; and who approaches his job with humility." That was the kind of prosecutor I tried to be during my years of service at DOJ.

In 1997, I left the department to serve the cause of justice in another role: as a judge. I have loved being a judge. But to serve as attorney general at this critical time, to lead the more than 113,000 dedicated men and women who work at the department to ensure the rule of law is a calling I am honored and eager to answer.

As everyone who watched yesterday's events in Washington now understands, if they did not understand before, the rule of law is not just some lawyer's turn of phrase. It is the very foundation of our democracy. The essence of the rule of law is that like cases are treated alike; that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, one rule for friends, another for foes, one rule for the powerful, another for the powerless, one rule for the rich and another for the poor, or different rules, depending upon one's race or ethnicity. And the essence of its great corollary, equal justice under law, is that all citizens are protected in the exercise of their civil rights. Those ideals have animated the Department of Justice since the very moment of its inception.

[14:20:00] As President-elect Biden just recounted, the department was founded in the midst of Reconstruction following the Civil War, with its first principal task to ensure compliance with the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. As a story historian Ron Chernow wrote, quote, "The new Justice Department would forge its identity in the battle to slay the first incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan and its offshoots. In that battle, the department successfully deployed its considerable resources to ensure civil rights which were under militant attack."

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. They echo today in the priorities that lie before us, from ensuring racial equity in our justice system to meeting the evolving threat of violent extremism.

If confirmed, those are the principles to which I will be devoted as attorney general. President-elect Biden understands this. As he said today, and as he has publicly said before, quote, "It's not my Justice Department; It's the people's Justice Department." He promised that the person he chose to lead the department would have the, quote, "independent capacity to decide who gets prosecuted and who doesn't."

Vice President-elect Harris has also publicly stated, quote, "Any decision coming out of the Justice Department should be based on facts, should be based on the law. It should not be based on politics, period." I could not agree more, and I would not have agreed to be considered for attorney general under any other conditions.

GARLAND: So thank you both for giving me the opportunity to serve.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right, we have just watched President- elect Joe Biden nominate Merrick Garland, Judge Merrick Garland, as his attorney general pick.

Merrick Garland, of course, you are likely familiar with. He was, in March of 2016, former President Obama's pick to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, which was blocked by Republicans, and so that never came to fruition. He is not going to be the attorney general for Joe Biden, if Joe Biden gets his way.

I do want to bring our panel back in to talk about this, and specifically Carl Bernstein. I want to ask you about what the president-elect said at the top of his remarks here, which was just a scorching rebuke of President Trump. He said that yesterday also was a clear failure to carry out equal justice, he said don't dare call them protesters, they were a riotous mob. What did you think about his comments, Carl?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought this was an absolutely great speech that the nation needs at just this moment by the incoming president of the United States, about fundamental values, about what has occurred during his predecessor's presidency, which has been a lawless presidency, which has undermined faith in our democratic institutions.

I think what all of this that we've just seen, including the nomination of Judge Garland to be the attorney general, is about restoration. And the theme perhaps for today is restoration of the principles that include, incidentally, the ability for bipartisan work. Listen to Judge Garland talk about his mentor, Ed Levi, the attorney general of the United States, a Republican, a great attorney general.


So that what we saw here today is a restoration of fundamental values, what our government is for, what Donald Trump and Trumpism have done to America. And that stain must be removed as we move forward, and a total repudiation of Trump, his values -- if there are values there -- and Trumpism.

KEILAR: We have a very significant statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that we just got in. This is about -- she says that President Trump should be removed from office. Let's listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Good afternoon. I don't know if the word "good" is a way to describe it, but. Because, yesterday, the president of the United States incited an armed insurrection against America, the gleeful desecration of the U.S. Capitol, which is the temple of our American democracy, the violence targeting Congress are horrors that will forever stain our nation's history, instigated by the president of the United States -- that's why it's such a stain.

In calling for this seditious act, the president has committed an unspeakable assault on our nation and our people. I join the Senate Democratic leader in calling on the vice president to remove this president by immediately invoking the 25th Amendment. If the vice president and cabinet do not act, the Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment. That is the overwhelming sentiment of my caucus.

And the American people, by the way --


KEILAR: Dana Bash, those are -- I mean, that is a big deal, coming from the House speaker.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely is. And you know, maybe we're numb to sort of the politics of people kind of going back and forth, particularly in the era of Donald Trump.

Nancy Pelosi has a constitutional role, she is speaker of the House, second in line to be the president of the United States. So by her doing what she just did, saying what she just said, that holds a lot of sway and she is not somebody who takes that lightly.

I mean, you go back to impeachment, it took a while, despite the frustration of many Democratic rank-and-file members, for her to agree to go forward with the proceedings for the articles of impeachment.

Now, let's be clear -- and Laura can speak to this -- unless, you know, it gets to the end of a process, Congress doesn't have much of a role in the 25th Amendment if that happens. But it's the moral authority, the rhetorical authority, the constitutional relevance, I think, of her role that gives such importance to what she said.

And you know, you're hearing a lot of that now from other Democrats, more rank-and-file, also the top Democrat in the Senate. Only one that I know of, Republican, Adam Kinzinger, a veteran, a military veteran as well as now an outspoken Trump critic, has said that this should go on within the cabinet, the 25th Amendment.

The idea right now, as we speak, that we're hearing -- I know Jamie Gengel, Kaitlan Collins and others and I are talking to a lot of Republicans -- is to contain the president as much as possible. And this kind of threat, they're hoping, will do that. Because they're not sure the 25th Amendment is really that viable, given all of the realities, not the least of which is the calendar and the fact that there's only about two weeks left.

But it is very significant, what we just heard, from the speaker of the House, and that should not be overlooked just because we are in very partisan times.

KEILAR: Yes, Laura, what is your reaction to what we just heard from Speaker Pelosi?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: What an extraordinary moment in history, that the same speaker of the House who was almost begged by members of her caucus and colleagues in the court of public opinion to launch impeachment the first time, has now said, essentially, if you do not enact the 25th Amendment, then Congress has a role and we will do something about it.

And what's different right now than, say, last year, when you're talking about an impeachment based in part on that Ukrainian presidential phone call but also on the withholding of military aid as a consequence, you have the numbers in the Senate suddenly shifting.

What everyone thought about impeachment before, was the idea -- yes of course, the House could bring articles of impeachment, but it's going to be DOA, dead on arrival, when it reached someone like the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.


Well, now, the tide has changed, and the balance of power has shifted.