Sen. Ted Cruz’s Exchange With Biden Nominee Over Defunding Police

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Editor’s note: Kristen Clarke, nominated by President Joe Biden to be the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, testified Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Below is a transcript of her conversation with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Sen. Ted Cruz: Welcome to both of the nominees. Ms. Clarke, as I look to your record, I see the record of someone who has spent a career as a partisan advocate. Last year, you wrote an op-ed in Newsweek entitled, “I Prosecuted Police Killings. Defund the Police—But Be Strategic.” Do you still believe it is a good idea to defund the police?

Kristen Clarke: Thank you, Senator, for that question. I do not support defunding the police. The impetus for writing that op-ed was to make clear that I do not support defunding the police, and I spent considerable time talking about the need to channel resources to places such as mental health treatment to alleviate some of the burdens that we place on the doorstep of law enforcement, some of the issues we ask them to wrestle with that are outside their core competency, but if I—

Cruz: Ms. Clarke, we have limited time. You say you don’t support defunding the police, you just said it twice. The title of your article was “Defund the Police.” But let’s not just look to the title, your article begins by saying that the national protests we saw last year, quote, “opened up space for transformative policy discussion,” and you then continue to write, and this is a quote, “Into that space has surged a unifying call from the Black Lives Matter movement: ‘Defund the police.’” Do you really believe ‘defund the police’ is a unifying call?

Clarke: I don’t support defund the police.

Cruz: I’m reading from your article.

Clarke: Amidst—

Cruz: Do you disagree with your article?

Clarke: Amidst the demonstrations and protests, I wanted to provide a different perspective. I don’t support taking away resources from police and putting communities in harm’s way. There’s a rise in hate crimes and extremism.

Cruz: Ms. Clarke, you know you’re testifying under oath here?

Clarke: Absolutely.

Sen. Dick Durbin: Please allow her to—

Cruz: You just said a moment ago—

Durbin: Sen. Cruz, please allow her to complete her answers

Cruz: Well, I’m not going to allow her to filibuster, so I’m going to ask a question. If she wants to answer the question that I asked, she can do so, but I’m not going to—

Durbin: She should be allowed. I hope you’ll show respect to the witness and allow her—

Cruz: I will show respect—

Durbin: Thank you.

Cruz: … to every witness, but we also have limited time, as you’re aware. And you’ve been on this committee long enough to know that witnesses, in avoiding questions, will try to filibuster on different topics. So I’m going to ask questions, and I’m going to expect answers to the questions I ask. And I understand the chairman wants to jump in and defend the witnesses, but that’s your prerogative to try to do so.

Durbin: I will defend witnesses on either side and members on either side. We are respectful in this committee. I hope that all members will abide by that.

Cruz: I hope and expect the same standard will be applied to senators on both sides. 

Now, let’s return to, you just said you don’t support cutting funds from police. I find that astonishing and, Ms. Clarke, frankly, not credible. Because I’m holding the article you wrote, and I actually pulled out a highlighter and highlighted the beginning of each paragraph going through, and about midway through you have a paragraph that says, “We must invest less in police and more in social workers.” 

Original here. Reproduced with permission.

The next paragraph is, “We must invest less in police and more in social support to our schools.” The next paragraph begins, “We must invest less in police and more in mental health aid.” Three paragraphs in your article you begin with the words, “We must invest less in police,” and you just told this committee, under oath, you don’t support investing less in police. How do you square those?

Clarke: If I may, Senator, I support the fact that President [Joe] Biden is committing $300 million new dollars for the COPS program, $300 million new dollars for resources to the police. I wrote that op-ed without having the power of the purse string behind me, and talked about how we can allocate a limited pool of resources in a more effective way. But—

Cruz: So do you believe you were wrong last year when you called for defunding the police and investing less in the police?

Clarke: It’s a poor title chosen by the editor. But I don’t—

Cruz: It’s not just the title, it’s your text. “We must invest less in police.” Three paragraphs you begin with those words. You wrote those words. … Do you agree with those words today?

Clarke: Without the power of the purse string I wrote those words, but President Biden is committing more resources to police, and I think that’s a great thing, Senator.

Cruz: All right, let’s shift to another topic. Your advocacy and, frankly, extreme position on defunding the police is paired with a history of, not only excusing, but celebrating murderers who have murdered police officers. 

It’s been reported that during law school, you helped organize a conference with speakers who referred to convicted cop killers as political prisoners. This included Mumia Abu-Jamal, who murdered a Philadelphia police officer, and Assata Shakur, who was convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper, escaped from prison, and is on the FBI’s most wanted list. 

Did you organize the conference and do you support celebrating those who murder police officers as heroes and political prisoners?

Clarke: That conference you’re referring to was organized by the late Dr. Manning Marable, a noted historian who led the Institute for Research in African-American Studies. I was a student providing support for the institute, working on a range of projects. To the second question, no, Senator, I do not celebrate the loss of life in any instance.

Cruz: So if you say you didn’t organize the conference, why did multiple speakers at the conference thank you by name for inviting them to speak at the conference?

Clarke: Because I was a hardworking student that made sure people were fed, mailed out invitations, provided the agenda. I was a student providing logistical support to a notable historian who was the one who organized that conference.

Cruz: So if there’s a police officer in Philadelphia or New Jersey today watching this hearing, how are they supposed to react to your nomination to one of the senior positions of the Department of Justice knowing that, as a student, you participated in a conference celebrating and lionizing cop killers who murdered a Philadelphia police officer and a New Jersey state trooper? How should a cop today watching this react to that news?

Clarke: And have never, and would not ever, celebrate the loss of life or the killing of a police officer, Senator. Not ever.

Cruz: Do you believe they’re political prisoners?

Durbin: Thank you, Sen. Cruz. Thank you, Sen. Cruz.

Reproduced with permission. Original here.