President Biden’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, explained his handling of the case of the 2014 death of Laquan McDonald when he was mayor of Chicago, after being asked to do so at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Figures on the left, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., have opposed Emanuel’s nomination due to accusations that he was involved in an attempted cover-up of the nature of McDonald’s death, which occurred after he was shot 16 times by now-former police officer Jason Van Dyke.
“I said then, I’m the mayor and I’m responsible and accountable for fixing this so this never happens again,” Emanuel said when discussing the matter. “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 the what-ifs and the changes and what could have been.”
The accusations of impropriety stemmed from the lengthy delay of the release of police video, which undermined earlier reports that the shooting was justified. The footage was not made public until a judge ordered Emanuel to have it released more than a year after McDonald’s death, finding that the state had violated records laws by not releasing it earlier.
Emanuel explained at the Wednesday hearing that soon after the shooting took place, there were three simultaneous investigations looking into the case, and “long-standing protocol and practice” dictated that nothing should released to prevent compromising the integrity of those investigations.
The problem, Emanuel noted, is that “the longer the investigation goes on, the greater the distrust and the greater the skepticism” about what is happening behind the scenes – that a cover-up could be taking place.
Ocasio-Cortez still believes there was a cover-up, and blasted Biden for picking Emanuel because of those suspicions.
“This nomination is deeply shameful. As mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel helped cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald – a mere teenager when he was shot 16 times in the back by a Chicago police officer,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “This alone should be flatly disqualifying for any position of public trust, let alone representing the United States as an ambassador.”
Emanuel went on to say that a politician like him would be “the last person you want to make a unilateral decision about the release of a video,” and that the call “should be made by professionals.”
“The moment a politician unilaterally makes a decision in the middle of an investigation you’ve politicized that investigation, and more importantly you may have endangered the prosecution and bringing somebody to justice,” he added.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., took issue with a claim that Emanuel had made about not being aware of the true nature of the shooting until the video went public. Merkley challenged Emanuel’s claim that his big error was taking at face value a police determination that it was a good shooting, which shaped his view of the matter until the public release of the video.
The senator noted that McDonald’s family had viewed the footage before then and had reached a $5 million settlement agreement with the city of Chicago before McDonald’s family even sued. Merkley doubted that this could have happened without Emanuel having been briefed about what had taken place.
Emanuel, who has always denied that there was a cover-up, responded by claiming that he had relied on a system that was “broken.”
Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder. Three of his colleagues, Officer Thomas Gaffney, former Officer Joseph Walsh and former Detective David March, were found not guilty of obstruction of justice, official misconduct and conspiracy.