Records Contradict DOJ Nominee's Testimony on Controversial Conference

Kristen Clarke moderated panel at pro-cop killer conference

Kristen Clarke / Getty Images
May 4, 2021

Records obtained by the Washington Free Beacon appear to contradict Justice Department nominee Kristen Clarke's sworn statement that she was not involved with a conference in which convicted cop killers were hailed as political prisoners.

Clarke told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month that she merely provided "logistical support" for a 1999 Columbia University conference, "Black America vs. The Prison Industrial Complex." But an itinerary from the conference shows Clarke moderated a panel on alleged human rights violations in the prison system.

Clarke, who will head the Justice Department's influential civil rights division if confirmed, has already come under fire for shading the truth  in response to other questions from the Senate panel. Lawmakers have repeatedly pressed Clarke on past anti-Semitic writings and racially charged activism.

Clarke said last week in written responses to a question from Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) that she "did not have a speaking or other substantive role at the conference," which was hosted by Columbia University's Institute for Research in African-American Studies on April 23, 1999. She doubled down during her April 14 confirmation hearing.

The itinerary tells a different story. It shows Clarke moderated a panel on alleged human rights violations in the prison system. One of the panelists was Linda Thurston, whom Clarke introduced as a cofounder of Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, was sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. His case became a cause célèbre for social justice activists who believe he received an unfair trial.

The Columbia conference featured several speakers who praised Abu-Jamal and other convicted cop killers, including Assata Shakur. "We must march in Philadelphia tomorrow because Mumia Abu Jamal never received a fair trial and was tried by a racist judge," said Manning Marable, Clarke's mentor at Columbia, according to a transcript of the Columbia symposium.

The American Accountability Foundation obtained the schedule and transcript of the conference from Marable's archives. The group shared the documents with the Free Beacon.

The inconsistencies in Clarke's Senate response, as well as other associations she had with left-wing activists, may complicate her nomination. Clarke has come under scrutiny over a 1994 article she wrote for the Harvard Crimson in which she promoted a pseudoscientific theory of black racial superiority. Months later, Clarke invited Tony Martin, the author of the anti-Semitic treatise The Jewish Onslaught to speak at a Harvard student group.

Clarke told the Judiciary Committee that her 1994 article was intended as satire and that she would not give someone like Martin a platform again. At the time of the event, however, the Crimson reported that Clarke's article seemed serious, and its editors called on her to retract her claims.

Republicans have also pressed Clarke over an article she wrote last year entitled "I Prosecuted Police Killings. Defund the Police—But Be Strategic." Clarke told lawmakers that the article's title was poorly worded and that she does not support defunding the police.

If confirmed, Clarke will oversee investigations into racial discrimination, hate crimes, and alleged police brutality.

Clarke, who serves as the executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, gave conflicting answers in response to other questions about her radical affiliations at Columbia.

She told Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) in written responses that she did not serve with Marxist poet Amiri Baraka on the editorial staff of Souls, A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, a journal on black studies founded by Marable. The Free Beacon reported that Clarke is listed as an assistant editor and Baraka as a contributing editor in eight issues of Souls.

Clarke endorsed a Baraka essay that compares police to the Ku Klux Klan and refers to Abu-Jamal as a "lynch victim," according to a June 1999 document obtained by the American Accountability Foundation.

Baraka, who died in 2014, made numerous anti-gay, anti-white, and anti-Semitic remarks throughout his career.

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Department of Justice did not respond to requests for comment.