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Biden Says Capitol Attack Was 'Culmination' Of Trump's Assaults On Democracy

"Yesterday, in my view, was one of the darkest days in the history of our nation," President-elect Joe Biden said Thursday.
Jim Watson
AFP via Getty Images
"Yesterday, in my view, was one of the darkest days in the history of our nation," President-elect Joe Biden said Thursday.

Updated at 3:54 p.m. ET

President-elect Joe Biden delivered a blistering rebuke of President Trump on Thursday, a day after a pro-Trump mob breached the U.S. Capitol.

Biden called Wednesday "one of the darkest days" in U.S. history but said: "I wish we could say we couldn't see it coming. But that isn't true. We could see it coming."

He said the events were the "culmination" of Trump's flirtation with white supremacists and extremists, and years of attacks on democratic institutions, including the media and the justice system.

Biden made the remarks (read them in full below) before introducing his choice for U.S. attorney general, Judge Merrick Garland, during an event in Wilmington, Del.

Garland is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington. But he is likely best known as a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court who was refused even a hearing by Senate Republicans after President Barack Obama nominated him to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.

Garland also previously served in the Justice Department, leading investigations into the "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski and into the Oklahoma City bombing.

"Entering the Department of Justice will be a kind of homecoming for me," Garland said.

He echoed Biden's long-stated goals about what the men called the importance of restoring the reputation of the Justice Department, which they and some other critics argue has been tarnished under Trump.

Biden, for his part, stressed that he viewed the Justice Department and the attorney general as independent and sought to make a strong contrast with the way he said they'd operated under Trump.

Biden also announced he intends to nominate Lisa Monaco to the Justice Department's second-highest post, deputy attorney general. Monaco is another Justice Department veteran, and the first woman assistant attorney general for national security. Monaco also served as White House homeland security and counterterrorism adviser under Obama.

Biden also tapped Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general. She now heads the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and was previously assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department.

The president-elect said he's nominating Kristen Clarke to fill that post in his administration. She is now president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Clarke also served in the Justice Department in the Civil Rights Division and as a prosecutor in the Criminal Division.

Biden addressed his intended nominees and the current employees of the Justice Department on Thursday.

"You won't work for me," he said. "You are not the president's or the vice president's lawyers. Your loyalty is not to me. It is to the law. To the Constitution. The people of this nation. To guarantee justice."

Biden also pointedly noted that Wednesday's attempted insurrection at the Capitol constituted a "failure to carry out equal justice."

"No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn't have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol," he said. "We all know that's true, and it is unacceptable."

In a statement Thursday, acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said that "the DOJ is committed to ensuring that those responsible for this attack on our Government and the rule of law face the full consequences of their actions under the law."

Read Biden's remarks on the Capitol attack:

Yesterday, in my view, was one of the darkest days in the history of our nation.

An unprecedented assault on our democracy, an assault literally on the citadel of liberty, in the United States Capitol itself. An assault on the rule of law. An assault on the most sacred of American undertakings: ratifying the will of the people and choosing the leadership of their government.

All of us here grieve the loss of life. Grieve the desecration of the people's house.

But we, what we witnessed yesterday was not dissent, it was not disorder, it was not protest. It was chaos. They weren't protesters — don't dare call them protesters. They were a riotous mob of insurrectionists, domestic terrorists.

It's that basic. It's that simple. And I wish we could say we couldn't see it coming. But that isn't true. We could see it coming.

The past four years, we've had a president who's made his contempt for our democracy, our Constitution, the rule of law clear in everything he has done. He unleashed an all-out assault on our institutions of our democracy from the outset. And yesterday was the culmination of that unrelenting attack.

He's attacked the free press who dared to question his power, repeatedly calling the free press "the enemy of the people." Language at the time he first used it, I and others said, has long been used by autocrats and dictators all over the world to hold on to power — the enemy of the people. Language that is being used now by autocrats and dictators across the world, only this time with the imprimatur of an outgoing president of the United States of America.

He's attacked our intelligence services, who dared tell the American people the truth about the effort of a foreign power to elect him four years ago, choosing instead to believe the word of Vladimir Putin over the word of those who sworn their allegiance to this nation, many of whom had risked their lives in the service of this nation.

He deployed the United States military, tear-gassing peaceful protesters in pursuit of a photo opportunity in the service of his reelection, even holding the Bible upside down. The action that led to an apology from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and an outspoken denunciation of the use of military for domestic political purposes from scores, scores of former military leaders and secretaries of defense, led by Secretary [Dick] Cheney.

He thought he could stack the courts with friendly judges, who would support him no matter what. They were "Trump judges," his judges. He went so far as to say he needed nine justices on the Supreme Court because, because he thought the election would end up in the Supreme Court and they would hand him the election.

He was stunned, truly stunned, when the judges he appointed didn't do his bidding, instead acted with integrity, following the Constitution, upholding the rule of law — not just once or twice or three times, but over 60 times.

Let me say, over 60 times. In more than 60 cases in state, after state, after state. And then at the Supreme Court, his judges, including people considered, quote, "his judges, Trump judges," use his words. Looked at the allegations that Trump was making and determined they were without any merit.

Nothing was judged to put this election in question or doubt by any of these judges. You want to understand the importance of democratic institutions in this country? Take a look at the judiciary in this nation. Take a look at the pressure it was just subjected to by a sitting president of the United States of America. At every level. The judiciary rose to the moment during this election. Did its job. Acted with complete fairness and impartiality, with complete honor and integrity. When history looks back on this moment we've just passed through, I believe it will say our democracy survived in no small part because of the men and women who represent an independent judiciary in this nation. We owe them a deep, deep debt of gratitude.

And then there's the attack on the Department of Justice. Treating the attorney general as his personal lawyer and the department as his personal law firm. Through it all, we would hear the same thing from this president: "my generals, my judges, my attorney general."

And then yesterday, a culmination of attack on our institutions of democracy. This time, the Congress itself. Inciting a mob to attack the Capitol, to threaten elected representatives of the people of this nation, and even the vice president, to stop the Congress from ratifying the will of the American people in a just-completed free and fair election. Trying to use a mob to silence the voices of nearly 160 million Americans who summoned the courage in the face of a pandemic that threatened their health and their lives to cast that sacred ballot.

I made it clear from the moment I entered this race, that what I believed was at stake — I said there was nothing less at stake than who we are as a nation, what we stand for, what we believe, what we will be.

At the center of that belief is one of the oldest principles this nation has long held, we're a government of law — not of men, not of the people, of laws.

I said it many times in the campaign. Our democratic institutions are not relics of another age. They're what set this nation apart. They're the guardrails of our democracy. That's why there is no president who is a king. No Congress that's a House of Lords. A judiciary doesn't serve the will of the president or exist to protect him or her. We have three coequal branches of government — coequal.

Our president is not above the law. Justice serves the people. It doesn't protect the powerful. Justice is blind. What we saw yesterday, in plain view was another violation of a fundamental tenet of this nation. Not only do we see the failure to protect one of the three branches of our government. We also saw a clear failure to carry out equal justice.

As we used to say in the Senate, excuse a point of personal privilege. A little over an hour and a half after the chaos started, I got a text from my granddaughter, Finnegan Biden, who is a senior in her last semester, the University of Pennsylvania. She sent me a photo of military people in full military gear. Scores of them lining the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Because of protests by Black Lives Matter. She said, "Pop. This isn't fair."

No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn't have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol. We all know that's true, and it is unacceptable. Totally unacceptable. The American people saw it in plain view. And I hope it's sensitized them to what we have to do. Not many people know it.

When Justice Garland and I were talking we talked about, I think he raised it, the reason for the Justice Department was formed in the first place. Was back in 1870. We didn't have a Justice Department before that, the Cabinet. It was formed in 1870 to enforce the civil rights amendment that grew out of the Civil War — the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. To stand up to the Klan, to stand up to racism. To take on domestic terrorism.

This original spirit must again guide and animate its work. So as we stand here today we do so in the wake of yesterday's events. Events that could not more have vividly demonstrated some of the most important work we have to do in this nation. Committing ourselves to the rule of law in this nation, invigorating our domestic and democratic institutions. Carrying out equal justice under the law in America.

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NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of Military.com, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.