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Merrick Garland defends deputy AG pick amidst GOP claims of antisemitism

Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general, touted the integrity of Kristen Clarke, who was nominated for assistant attorney general, as he appeared before the Senate for his confirmation hearing on Monday.

Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah brought up past comments made by Clarke, recently featured on conservative news websites, about racial superiority and highlighted her rolein organizing a 1994 event while at Harvard University that featured a controversial professor. The professor had espoused conspiracy theories about a Jewish “tradition” of persecuting Blacks, and accused Jews of having a “monopoly” on the notion of African inferiority.

“I’m a pretty good judge of what an antisemite is, and I do not believe that she is an antisemite,” Garland responded. “And I do not believe she is discriminatory in any sense.”

In an interview with the Forward following her appointment, Clarke said it “was a mistake” to have hosted the professor, and that her comments had been “twisted.”

Also on Monday, the Anti-Defamation League issued a letter of support for the confirmation of Clarke. “Clarke will bring much needed and well-rounded experience in the defense of civil rights to the position of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights,” Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO wrote in a letter — dated Feb 19 — to Sen. Dick Durbin, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican senior member of the committee. The ADL letter comes after dozens of Jewish organizations – including the American Jewish Congress, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism – had already expressed support for her nomination.

Clarke, who is president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, previously headed the civil rights bureau at the New York Attorney General’s office, under Eric Schneiderman.

Calling Clarke “an ally and friend,” ADL’s Greenblatt noted in the letter that he has “seen firsthand how she has demonstrated broad expertise in the strategic use of the law to achieve equal justice for all.” He added that his group is “directly aware of her deep and unambiguous personal commitment to justice for all, including her steadfast support in the fight against antisemitism.”

Elana Horwich, a classmate of Clarke at the Choate Rosemary Hall school in Wallingford, Connecticut, called Clarke “a person of integrity” who had admitted she made a mistake. “I want people in positions of power that can look at their past and admit to having made a mistake,” Horwich said in a recent interview. “I believe that she has very high integrity. I believe that she can stand with and for the Jewish people.”

Jonathan Rebell, an attorney from New York and another high school classmate, said he “was almost literally brought to tears” when Biden introduced Clarke to the media last month. “I don’t know of anyone who I would trust more in a position like that.”

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