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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

OPINION:

The Biden administration has spent the past several weeks leaning into a “unity message,” but its early actions demonstrate that this message is just a shiny hood ornament for a machine driven by a liberal agenda.

In a flurry of executive actions, President Biden has ended the Keystone XL Pipeline, re-entered the Paris Climate Accord, stopped construction on the border wall, and issued a toothless national mask mandate that Mr. Biden himself violated after signing.


Message over substance has also translated to the Department of Justice, where Mr. Biden has nominated Merrick Garland as attorney general and Lisa Monaco as deputy attorney general — two picks that are unlikely to cause more than token opposition in the Senate. 

But the real muscle in the Biden DOJ is going to be exercised by Vanita Gupta, the nominee for associate attorney general whose large portfolio includes the Civil Rights Division, the Environmental and Natural Resources Division, the Civil Division, and the Office of Justice Programs.

As head of the Civil Rights Division under President Obama, Ms. Gupta sued police departments with a vengeance, and one can expect that to resume along with the likelihood that DOJ law enforcement grants will be conditioned on police departments accepting top-down reforms from Main Justice likely in conjunction with the same outside groups that sued the Trump DOJ at every turn, including Ms. Gupta’s now former left-wing group artfully titled “The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.”

One early move that was reported by Fox News this week is the reinstatement of “third-party settlements,” a practice which allows the government to force parties settling litigation with the federal government to pay settlement money to a government-approved list of outside organizations instead of the United States Treasury. Similar practices have been found to be unethical in state trial courts. As Paul Larkin of the Heritage Foundation accurately stated: 

“Third-party contribution requirements are also rife with opportunities for political cronyism. There are scores of organizations that benefit the public, but this practice permits Justice to disburse funds to particular favored groups that benefit the political party in power, clearly an unseemly and illegitimate practice. At a minimum, the practice creates an obvious appearance of impropriety.”

According to the Daily Caller, the Obama administration, recipients of these settlement funds included “La Raza, a progressive group that supports curbing deportation and amnesty for illegal immigrants, and Operation Hope, a California group that urges banks to make ‘dignity loans’ to unqualified mortgage applicants.”

On June 7, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended the practice of third-party settlements and instead ordered, “any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people — not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power.”

But now with the Biden administration’s hand somewhat tied by a closely divided Congress, it is looking for ways to appease its far-left special interest friends. Reinstating third-party settlements will do the trick and will allow Ms. Gupta, if confirmed, to use the litigating power of the Department of Justice to funnel settlement money to a host of her favored outside political friends instead of the Treasury. 

In fact, a simple look at the Board of Directors of Ms. Gupta’s organization is a preview of just some of the intertwined connection of outside political groups that could be funded by DOJ using taxpayer money — ACLU, AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, etc. And whether one does or doesn’t support those groups’ causes is not the point. The Department of Justice is not Congress, does not control the tax and spend power of the United States, and should not be distributing taxpayer money to any third-party groups, much less political ones. 

The willingness of the Biden administration to make this move so early shows a stark contrast between the Trump Justice Department, which chose rule of law and accountability, and the Biden Justice Department, which in the first week is choosing politics and progressive left-wing causes over any practice that remotely resembles support of law and order. To be clear, the Biden administration will be funneling taxpayer dollars away from crime victims to line the pocket of their favored progressive leaning causes, 

If this is the way that the Biden Department of Justice is going to conduct itself, America is in for a long four years of anything but “unity.”

• Ian Prior is the former Principal Deputy Director of Public Affairs at the Department of Justice and the editor of BidenDoj.com


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