Emanuel defends handling of Chicago police shooting amid opposition to nomination

Emanuel defends handling of Chicago police shooting amid opposition to nomination
© Associated Press-M. Spencer Green

Rahm Emanuel told senators Wednesday that “there’s not a day or a week that has gone by” that he hasn't thought about the police shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014 when he was Chicago mayor.

Emanuel, President BidenJoe BidenManchin to vote to nix Biden's vaccine mandate for larger businesses Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Senate cuts deal to clear government funding bill MORE's nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to Japan, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Spending bill faces Senate scramble Republicans raise concerns over Biden's nominee for ambassador to Germany MORE (D-N.J.) quickly brought up the McDonald shooting and asked Emanuel to address the killing.

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“Seven years ago, a young man had his life taken on the streets of the city of Chicago. He had all the promise ahead of him and a police officer took his life, killed him. I said then, I’m the mayor and I’m responsible and accountable for fixing this so this never happens again. And to be honest, there’s not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven’t thought about this and thought about that the what ifs and the changes, and what could have been,” Emanuel told senators. 

A Chicago police officer fatally shot McDonald, 17, in October 2014. Emanuel was accused of suppressing the release of footage of the shooting — which showed McDonald had been walking away from police when the officer opened fire — until after he had been reelected the following November.

Emanuel said on Wednesday that, while there’s no uniform standard or policy for the release of police video, he didn’t want to prejudice witness or prevent prosecution with a premature release.

“As you know there’s a longstanding protocol and practice that nothing’s released in the middle of an investigation for fear of either prejudicing a witness or endangering a prosecution. That was the practice, longstanding, not just in Chicago but across the country,” he said.

He said that as mayor he made changes that dealt with oversight and accountability but acknowledged they were not enough to address the suspicion, distrust, and skepticism that exists police investigating one of their own in these types of situations. 

“It is clear to me, those changes were inadequate to the level of distrust. There were at the best marginal. I thought I was addressing the issue and I clearly missed the level of distrust and skepticism that existed. And that’s on me,” he said.

Biden's nomination of Emanuel has drawn fierce opposition, much of in revolving around his handling of the shooting and aftermath.

Liberal House members have called on senators to reject the nomination and many Senate Democrats have been quiet about their position on Emanuel prior to the Senate hearing.    

More than 20 activists led by Illinois congressional candidate Kina Collins (D) expressed their “deep concern” about Emanuel’s nomination, mainly over his handling of McDonald’s death, in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, several progressive groups rallied outside the Chicago Police Department headquarters, urging lawmakers to “Reject Rahm.”

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Lawmakers call on Olympic committee to press China on human rights abuses Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO MORE (D-Ore.) also asked Emanuel about the case. He noted that McDonald's mother learned about the nature of the shooting when she was called by the funeral home and asked Emanuel if himself learned what happened when her attorneys sought evidence from the city.

“When the video became public is when I learned what happened and the consequence of what happened that night,” Emanuel said. 

Merkley responded that the city of Chicago required McDonald’s family enter into a non-disclosure agreement and reiterated his question about at which point he was briefed on the details of the shooting.

“Because all these things happened. The family requested the video, the city attorney reached out proactively because there was a lawsuit to ask for a settlement, the settlement was approved in a less than one-minute meeting with no public discussion. It seems hard to believe that all those things happened and yet you were never briefed on the details of the situation when you were leading the city,” Merkley said.

Emanuel responded that this shooting was a tragedy and “all those are not technicalities.”

“No city of any size has not confronted the gulf and the gap that exists between police practices and the oversight and accountability. I made efforts of them, they missed the mark because they totally missed how deep that distrust is,” Emanuel said.

The hearing took place on the anniversary of the police shooting, which occurred in Chicago on Oct. 20, 2014.

Emanuel said that Chicago Rev. Marvin Hunter, who is McDonald’s great uncle, wrote a letter in support of his nomination that speaks to his “person and character, not professional abilities.” 

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“It doesn’t take away from the fact that a grave tragedy occurred seven years ago to this day on the streets of the city of Chicago. That tragedy sits with me as it has every day and every week for the last seven years,” Emanuel said.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineLiberty University professor charged with alleged sexual battery and abduction of student Senate parliamentarian looms over White House spending bill Menendez jabs State official over Colombian group's terror designation MORE (D-Md.) thanked Emanuel on Wednesday for speaking about McDonald.

“You can’t be a mayor especially in a city like Chicago without picking up some scar tissue along the way,” Kaine said.                         

Emanuel has the support of Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), who served as ambassador to Japan during the Trump administration. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsReal relief from high gas prices The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden to announce increased measures for omicron Collins says she supports legislation putting Roe v. Wade protections into law MORE (R-Maine) has also indicated she would be supportive of his nomination, which could allow for him to survive a Democratic defection or two in the 50-50 Senate. 

 

Emanuel was an aide in the White House and on the campaign trail for former President Clinton and served in Congress, where he helped build a Democratic majority in the mid-2000s. He left Congress to serve as former President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaPolitics must accept the reality of multiracial America and disavow racial backlash To empower parents, reinvent schools Senate race in Ohio poses crucial test for Democrats MORE’s chief of staff, and left that job to serve two terms as mayor of Chicago.

The committee also vetted the nominations of Nicholas Burns to be ambassador to China and Jonathan Kaplan to be ambassador to Singapore during the hearing on Wednesday.