WASHINGTON—At a Senate Judiciary hearing Tuesday to discuss reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, lawmakers questioned Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco about the Department of Justice’s commitment to sexual violence survivors.
Monaco urged the committee to reauthorize the 1994 VAWA — a Clinton-era bill that was reauthorized in 2000, 2005 and 2013, but expired in December 2018. A reauthorization act passed the House in April 2019, but later died in the GOP-led Senate.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked Monaco about the DOJ’s “decision to decline prosecution of the FBI agents” who “mishandled” the investigation into sexual assault allegations against Larry Nassar, a doctor with the U.S. Women’s National Gymnastics team. The agents, Durbin said, “clearly lied to the Inspector General’s office,” and the decision is in conflict with the department’s promises to bring justice to sexual violence survivors.
“I’m surprised to see you,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-N.C., to Monaco, reinforcing Durbin’s concerns. Cornyn read notes from reported interviews with gymnast Aly Raisman about the lack of DOJ presence at a September 15 hearing on the Nassar investigation. “You’re about three weeks too late.”
Monaco said the newly-confirmed Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite is “currently reviewing this matter” with “new information that has come to light.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said the FBI “tanked the background investigation” of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, asking Monaco: “Is there any reason that sexual assault allegations should be taken less seriously in the context of a background investigation than in the context of a criminal investigation?”
Sexual assault allegations, said Monaco, “should always be taken seriously.”
Durbin stressed the urgency and immediacy of the issue at hand. The pandemic has exacerbated domestic violence, said Durbin, leaving many victims “isolated at home with an abuser.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., redirected the discussion to the “boyfriend loophole,” a lapse in some gun laws that allows some abusers access to guns — and a contentious legislative issue that has polarized the Senate in the reauthorization debates.
“We aren’t there yet, but good things in the Senate often take time,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who shared during her opening statement that she is herself a sexual assault survivor. “We will keep working until we come to a bill that won’t just be a talking point for one side or the other,” said Ernst, but a bipartisan bill that can pass both chambers and “prevent what happened to me from ever happening to another woman.”