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Biden Announces His Picks For DOJ Team

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President-elect Biden formally introduced today his nominee to lead the Department of Justice.

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JOE BIDEN: For attorney general of the United States, I nominate a man of impeccable integrity, Judge Merrick Garland.

CHANG: Garland was the headliner to a slate of picks that Biden announced for senior positions at the DOJ, and NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us now to tell us more about them. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: All right. So attorney general was, like, the one last big cabinet positions we have been waiting to hear about. And we have a familiar name here - right? - Merrick Garland. Remind us who he is.

LUCAS: So for the past 20-plus years, Garland has been a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is widely viewed as the second-most important court in the country. But his name probably rings a bell for folks because he was nominated by President Obama for the Supreme Court back in 2016. Republicans in the Senate, though, refused to give Garland a hearing at all, so his nomination didn't go anywhere. But before his time on the bench, Garland worked at the Justice Department - first, early in his career, as an assistant to the attorney general in the Carter administration. And then later, he held a senior position during the Clinton era. And in that role, he oversaw the investigation and prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombing. He was also involved in the Unabomber investigation. And he said today in his remarks that going back to the department would be a homecoming for him.

CHANG: Well, looking forward, I mean, the Justice Department has been mired in controversy during the Trump administration. Did Garland say how he wanted to run things, how he wants to change things if he's confirmed?

LUCAS: There was a lot of talk both from Biden and Garland about integrity and the independence of the department. And that, of course, is because of the beating the department took over the past four years and the politicization that a lot of legal experts say happened under now former Attorney General Bill Barr. Biden clearly wanted to use this occasion to draw a line between himself and President Trump, and he had this message for those who will lead the department in his own administration.

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BIDEN: You are not the president or the vice president's lawyer. Your loyalty is not to me. It's to the law, the Constitution.

LUCAS: Now, Garland, for his part, he talked about the principles that he thinks are the foundation of the Justice Department. That includes, notably, independence from partisan political influence and also adhering to the rule of law. He referenced in his speech two titans of the Justice Department, former attorneys general Robert Jackson and Ed Levi, as inspirations for him. Levi helped restore the department after Watergate. And I have heard from folks in the justice system a hope that Garland is the sort of individual who could play a similar role now.

CHANG: Interesting. OK, so that's attorney general. Who were the other senior Justice Department nominees that Biden announced today?

LUCAS: So he nominated Lisa Monaco for the No. 2 position of deputy attorney general. She, too, is a department veteran. She worked as a prosecutor, then served as a senior adviser to Robert Mueller when he was FBI director. She later led the department's national security division. She also served in the Obama White House. For the No. 3 spot, Biden picked Vanita Gupta, who led the civil rights division at the department in the Obama administration. She would be the first woman of color to serve as associate attorney general. And then to lead the civil rights division, Biden picked Kristen Clarke, who is a civil rights attorney and advocate.

CHANG: OK. Now that we know the team that Biden wants, what's ahead for the Justice Department if all of these nominees are confirmed?

LUCAS: There is a lot that is going to be on Garland and his team's plate. All four of the nominees today talked about equal protection under the law, regardless of race. And announcing the head of the civil rights division, along with the top three posts, signals that civil rights will certainly be a top concern for the Biden Justice Department. But there are a lot of political cases that are going to be on their plate as well. There's the special counsel investigation into the origins of the Russia probe. There's the ongoing criminal investigation into President Biden's - President-elect Biden's son, Hunter. And then, of course, there's the fallout from the riot that we saw yesterday at the Capitol.

CHANG: Right. That is NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Thank you, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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