Gabbard vs. Harris: You Kept Prisoners Locked Up For Labor, Blocked Evidence That Would Free Man On Death Row

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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard takes on Sen. Kamala Harris over her prosecutorial record in California and her record on criminal justice reform, the death penalty, and the war on drugs during the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: Now, I would like to also talk about this conversation about Eric Garner, because I, too, met with his mother. And one of the things that we've got to be clear about is that this president of the United States, Donald Trump, while he has been in office, has quietly been allowing the United States Department of Justice to shut down consent decrees, to stop pattern and practice investigations.



On that case, we also know that the...

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

HARRIS: ... Civil Rights Division -- this is important. The Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice said charges should have been filed, but this United States Department of Justice usurped -- and I believe it is because that president did not want those charges to go forward. And they overrode a decision by the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

HARRIS: Under my administration, the Civil Rights Division...

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

HARRIS: ... will rein and there will be independent investigations.

TAPPER: Vice President Biden, Vice President Biden, I want to give you a chance to respond to what Senator Harris just said.

BIDEN: When Senator Harris was attorney general for eight years in the state of California, there were two of the most segregated school districts in the country, in Los Angeles and in San Francisco.

And she did not -- I didn’t see a single solitary time she brought a case against them to desegregate them. Secondly, she also was in a situation where she had a police department when she was there that in fact was abusing people’s right.

And the fact was that she in fact was told by her own people that her own staff that she should do something about and disclose to defense attorney’s like me that you in fact have been -- the police officer did something that did not give you information of what (inaudible) your -- your client. She didn’t do that. She never did it. And so what happened.

Along came a federal judge and said enough, enough. And he freed 1,000 of these people. If you doubt me, google 1,000 prisoners freed, Kamala Harris.

TAPPER: Thank you, Vice President Biden. Senator Harris, your response.

HARRIS: That is -- is simply not true. And as attorney general of California where I ran the second largest Department of Justice in the United States, second only to the United States Department of Justice, I am proud of the work we did.

Work that has received national recognition for what has been the important work of reforming a criminal justice system and cleaning up the consequences of the bills that you passed when you were in the United States Senate for decades.

It was the work of creating the -- one of the first in the nation initiatives around reentering former offenders and getting them jobs and counseling.

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

HARRIS: I did the work as attorney general of putting body cameras on special agents in the state of California.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I want to bring in Congresswoman ….

HARRIS: And I’m proud of that work.

TAPPER: I want to bring in Congresswoman Gabbard. Congresswoman Gabbard, you took issue with Senator Harris confronting Vice President Biden at the last debate. You called it a quote, false accusation that Joe Biden is a racist. What’s your response?

GABBARD: I want to bring the conversation back to the broken criminal justice system that is disproportionately negatively impacting black and brown people all across this country today. Now Senator Harris says she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor and that she’ll be a prosecutor president.

But I’m deeply concerned about this record. There are too many examples to cite but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana.

(APPLAUSE)

She blocked evidence -- she blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California.

(APPLAUSE)

And she fought to keep …

TAPPER: Thank you, Congresswoman.

GABBARD: Bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way.

TAPPER: Thank you, Congresswoman. Senator Harris, your response?

(APPLAUSE)

HARRIS: As the elected attorney general of California, I did the work of significantly reforming the criminal justice system of a state of 40 million people, which became a national model for the work that needs to be done.

And I am proud of that work. And I am proud of making a decision to not just give fancy speeches or be in a legislative body and give speeches on the floor, but actually doing the work of being in the position to use the power that I had to reform a system that is badly in need of reform.

That is why we created initiatives that were about reentering former offenders and getting them counseling.

TAPPER: Thank you.

HARRIS: It is why (ph) and because I know that criminal justice system is so broken …

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

HARRIS: That I am an advocate for what we need to do to not only decriminalize, but legalize marijuana in the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator. Your time is up. I want to -- I want to bring Congresswoman Gabbard back in. Your response, please (ph).

GABBARD: The bottom line is, Senator Harris, when you were in a position to make a difference and an impact in these people’s lives, you did not. And worse yet, in the case of those who were on death row, innocent people, you actually blocked evidence from being revealed that would have freed them until you were forced to do so.

(APPLAUSE)

There is no excuse for that and the people who suffered under your reign as prosecutor owe -- you owe them an apology.

TAPPER: Senator Harris?

(APPLAUSE)

HARRIS: My entire career I have been opposed -- personally opposed to the death penalty and that has never changed. And I dare anybody who is in a position to make that decision, to face the people I have faced to say I will not seek the death penalty. That is my background, that is my work.

I am proud of it. I think you can judge people by when they are under fire and it’s not about some fancy opinion on a stage but when they’re in the position to actually make a decision, what do they do.

When I was in the position of having to decide whether or not to seek a death penalty on cases I prosecuted, I made a very difficult decision that was not popular to not seek the death penalty. History shows that and I am proud of those decisions.

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