Vanita Gupta punts on Dylann Roof

When she was an Assistant Attorney General in the Obama administration, Vanita Gupta, Joe Biden’s nominee for Associate Attorney General, opposed sentencing Dylann Roof to death. Roof is the white supremacist who mass murdered Blacks at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Gupta’s opposition to seeking the death penalty for Roof was reported by the Washington Post. She explained her opposition in a memo. In that memo she argued that, in Roof’s case, extenuating factors outweighed aggravating ones, and that, accordingly, Roof should not be sentenced to death. This was an absurd and astonishing position, given the undisputed facts.

At her hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gupta boasted that Dylann Roof was convicted and sentenced to death “under my watch.” In view of Gupta’s recommendation that the Justice Department not seek the death penalty for Roof, this statement was grossly misleading.

Sen. Lindsey Graham followed up on these matters in post-hearing written questions to Gupta. Not surprisingly, Gupta refused to answer Graham’s questions.

Graham asked Gupta:

Did you at any point oppose the death penalty for Dylann Roof? Did you at any point author a memorandum or other document or communication expressing opposition to the death penalty for Dylann Roof?

Anticipating that Gupta would assert a claim of “privilege,” Graham added:

If you believe you can only partially answer this question because of a privilege, please explain why it is fair for you to say that the Roof death penalty was obtained “under [your] watch,” but not fully explain your role in obtaining that penalty.
a. If you opposed the death penalty for Dylann Roof, do you believe it is fair to say that Roof received the death penalty “under [your] watch?”

Gupta claimed privilege in declining to answer the first part of the question, regarding her position on the death penalty for Roof. As to how she fairly could claim credit for the imposition of the death penalty in Roof’s case, Gupta was silent. (What could she say?) Her entire answer to Graham’s question and its subpart was:

Justice Department deliberations are confidential and it would not be appropriate for me to discuss internal deliberations in connection with this or any other matter I worked on during my prior government service.

The honest answers to Graham’s questions are: (1) Gupta did oppose the death penalty for Roof and (2) it wasn’t fair for her to say that Roof received the death penalty under her watch without further explaining her role.

Graham also asked Gupta:

Your signature, along with the then-US Attorney for South Carolina, appears on the indictment of Dylann Roof. The indictment lists aggravating factors in his case: premeditation, vulnerable victims, and multiple killings. Interestingly, the indictment you signed did not list as an aggravator terrorism—expressly available as an aggravating factor under 18 U.S.C. 3592 (c) (9).

a. Roof authored racist manuscripts, targeted Mother Emanuel because it serves African Americans, and intended to incite a race war. Why do you not believe Roof is a domestic terrorist?
b. If you now believe Roof is a domestic terrorist, why didn’t you include terrorism as an aggravating factor in the indictment?

Gupta refused to answer, claiming again that “it would not be appropriate for me to discuss internal deliberations in connection with this or any other matter I worked on during my prior government service.”

The Senate should reject Gupta’s nomination to be Associate Attorney General, the number three job at the DOJ, because (1) she recommended leniency for Dylann Roof based on the preposterous and offensive view that extenuating factors outweighed aggravating ones in the premeditated massacre of Blacks at a church and (2) she tried to mislead the Senate about the matter.

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