Sen. Klobuchar’s past as prosecutor looms over vice presidential prospects
Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesBY: ALISA WIERSEMA, ABC NEWS
(MINNEAPOLIS) — In recent months, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been floated as a presumptive top choice for the role of vice president on Joe Biden’s ticket.
While the former presidential candidate’s political visibility could be seen as an asset in the vice presidential vetting process, it also puts the senior Minnesota senator’s past public service as the Hennepin County attorney under sharper scrutiny in light of the fallout over the death of George Floyd.
As protests continue over officials’ handling of the prosecution of the officers involved in Floyd’s death, Klobuchar, who serves as the senior senator from Minnesota, is facing renewed scrutiny over her own record as the Hennepin County attorney, an issue she already faced on the campaign trail.
Throughout the Democratic primary cycle, Klobuchar frequently received questions about her role in sending a black teenager to prison for life and who may have been innocent of the murder charges for which he was sentenced. Those concerns manifested on the campaign trail when her final hometown rally in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, was cancelled 40 minutes after she was scheduled to take the stage as protesters overtook the stage and chanted for justice in the case of Myron Burrell.
More recently, following the death of George Floyd, Klobuchar’s actions in her former role have been further questioned for utilizing the practice of having a grand jury decide whether to criminally charge officers associated with police-involved fatalities.
“I have said repeatedly — back when I was the county attorney, the cases we had involved with officer-involved shootings went to a grand jury. That was true across our state and many jurisdictions across the country,” Klobuchar said in a cable news interview Friday.
“I think that was wrong now,” she added, “I think it would have been much better if I took the responsibility and looked at the cases and made the decision myself, but let me make this clear — we did not blow off these cases. We brought them to a grand jury.”
A spokesperson for the senator did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.
On a call with reporters Friday, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the top African American lawmaker in Congress, seemed to suggest that Floyd’s killing and the ongoing protests in Minneapolis would damage Klobuchar’s odds for being picked as Biden’s running mate. While Clyburn noted that Senator Klobuchar is “absolutely” qualified for the role, he alluded that it may not be her time.
“I lost three times before I ever got to the office and I told people the time was not quite right. We are all victims sometimes of timing, and some of us benefit tremendously from timing,” he said. “This is very tough timing for Amy Klobuchar, who I respect so much. The timing is tough.”
Klobuchar dropped out of the presidential race after voters in Clyburn’s home state of South Carolina cast their ballots. Despite Klobuchar’s surprise third place finish in the early primary state of New Hampshire, she finished sixth with the Palmetto State’s more diverse electorate. In an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz in the lead up to the Nevada and South Carolina primaries in February, Klobuchar acknowledged that she was struggling to build support with minority voters, and said at the time that people need “to get to know me.”
The political aftershocks happening in Klobuchar’s home state, paired with her struggle to appeal to black voters during the Democratic primary season, are now factoring into the public discourse about whether she would be the best vice presidential option for Joe Biden, whose campaign considers minority voters to be a key constituency they’ll need to win back the White House in November.
Klobuchar’s defense of her record happened after days of swirling allegations that in 2006 she declined to bring charges against Derek Chauvin, the officer who was shown on-camera kneeling on Floyd’s neck.
According to a document that outlines instances of fatalities involving encounters with law enforcement agencies put together by the police watchdog group, Communities United Against Police Brutality, Chauvin was one of six Minneapolis police officers involved in an October 2006 incident in which police shot and killed a man named Wayne Reyes, who was suspected of stabbing his girlfriend and a male friend.
Hennepin County confirmed to ABC News that a grand jury declined to indict the officers involved in that incident.
On Friday, Klobuchar vehemently denied the allegations in a cable news interview, and said that she never declined the case because she was already in the U.S. Senate when it went to a grand jury.
“My successor’s office said it was not my place to make decisions because the decision was made when I was in the U.S. Senate. In fact, nine months after I was in the senate is when it went to the grand jury,” Klobuchar said.
In an email to ABC News, Lacey Severins, a spokeswoman for the Hennepin County prosecutor’s office said, “Amy Klobuchar’s last day as the Hennepin County Attorney was Dec. 31, 2006; she had no involvement in the prosecution [of the case.]” Severins also added that “the date for when the case was referred to the grand jury could not have been any earlier than six weeks before a decision was made.”
Amid the scrutiny, Klobuchar repeatedly called for charges to be brought against those who were involved in Floyd’s death. She also urged for “a large scale investigation of what’s been going on at the Minneapolis police department.”
On Friday, in a letter to the U.S. Attorney General, Klobuchar, along with fellow Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith and 26 other senators, called on the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to conduct an investigation into the patterns and practices of racially discriminatory and violent policing in the Minneapolis Police Department.
“Given the repeated instances of police violence that have resulted in the deaths of several citizens—a disproportionate share of whom have been black men—we ask that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department conduct an investigation into the patterns and practices of racially discriminatory and violent policing in the MPD,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that the Justice Department should “also be prepared to use the strongest tools available…to ensure oversight, enforcement, and accountability on an ongoing basis.”
Despite the political rumblings, Klobuchar is not taking herself out of vice presidential consideration. In a cable news interview Friday, she deflected questions about whether her oversight of those cases amid the current cultural context should disqualify her from being considered for vice president.
“This is Joe Biden’s decision,” she said. “He was an excellent vice president and he’s going to make the best decision for him, for our country, for the pandemic and the crisis we’re facing to take over leadership of who’s the best partner for him…He will make that decision. He’ll decide who he’s considering.”
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