The Biden Justice Department said last week it will not open a civil rights investigation into nursing home deaths in three states, prompting outcry from Republicans who say the Biden administration is covering up for Democratic governors.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Rep. Steve Scalise (R., La.) had called on the Justice Department's civil rights division to investigate whether COVID policies in New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania violated nursing home residents' civil rights by putting them at higher risk of coronavirus infection. The Justice Department said Friday it had requested information from the states, but that it will not move forward with a civil rights investigation.
At the center of the decision to forgo the investigation is Kristen Clarke, the controversial Justice Department civil rights chief who has criticized Republicans behind the probe. Clarke’s office is alone in dismissing the nursing home investigation. The Justice Department is reportedly still investigating a policy Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D., N.Y.) implemented on March 25, 2020, that required nursing homes to admit residents even if they tested positive for the virus. The New York Assembly's Judiciary Committee is also investigating the policy. New York attorney general Letitia James (D.) found in January that the Cuomo administration had undercounted virus-related nursing home deaths by more than 40 percent.
More than 15,000 nursing home residents died from coronavirus in New York. In Michigan, more than 5,100 nursing home and skilled nursing facility residents have died from coronavirus as of June 30. The state's auditor general is examining whether the data are accurate, according to the Detroit News. Pennsylvania has recorded more than 13,400 virus-related deaths at long-term care facilities, nearly half the number of fatalities for the entire state.
Clarke criticized the nursing home probe well before she ever took over the civil rights division. She asserted in an op-ed last September that then-attorney general William Barr opened the nursing home probe and other investigations in order to "promote Trump’s political prerogatives." She quoted Cuomo and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D., Mich.), who called the investigation a "nakedly partisan deflection" from cases of voter disenfranchisement, hate crimes, and other cases that fall into the civil rights division’s wheelhouse.
Cruz blasted Biden and Clarke over the decision, saying that it shows the Biden administration was "covering for Andrew Cuomo." Biden has forged close ties to both Cuomo and Whitmer, who served as co-chair of Biden’s presidential campaign.
"Kristen Clarke is exactly who we warned she would be: an extreme, partisan radical unfit to serve in the DOJ, who can now add turning a blind eye to the deaths of thousands to her laundry list of deeply troubling actions," Cruz told the Washington Free Beacon.
Cruz opposed Clarke’s confirmation to the civil rights post, citing another article she wrote last year in which she supported aspects of the movement to defund police departments.
Republicans accused Clarke of giving inconsistent answers to Congress about her role organizing conferences where cop killers were hailed as political prisoners and about her work alongside a black nationalist poet with a history of anti-Semitism.
Clarke was narrowly confirmed by a 51-48 vote on May 25.
Clarke has jumped to conclusions on other hot-button issues. In January 2019, she criticized the Chicago Police Department for requesting information from actor Jussie Smollett, who had claimed he was the victim of an anti-gay, anti-black hate crime by two Trump supporters. Clarke criticized Chicago police for requesting access to Smollett’s cell phone. He was later found to have fabricated the incident. Clarke told the Senate during her confirmation that she regretted her role pushing the Smollett hoax.