Klobuchar on defense as Floyd death puts spotlight on record


Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) defended her record as a county prosecutor on Friday after George Floyd’s death in police custody, which has shocked the country and sparked days of protests in Minneapolis, the largest city in her home state. 

Klobuchar specifically pushed back after reports circulated online falsely accusing her of declining to press charges in 2006 against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.

“This idea that I somehow declined a case, which has been reported on some news blogs ... against this officer is absolutely false. It is a lie. I don’t know what else to say about it, than it is a lie. The case was investigated. ... That investigation continued into a time where I was already sworn into the U.S. Senate,” Klobuchar told MSNBC. 

“It was handled and sent to the grand jury by my successor,” she added. 

In 2006, Chauvin was one of six officers involved in the shooting of a man allegedly involved in a stabbing. The incident took place on Oct. 29, when Klobuchar, while still county prosecutor, was deep into her ultimately successful Senate bid. The case wasn’t sent to a grand jury until after she was sworn in. 

The Hennepin County prosecutor's office said in a statement that Klobuchar “had no involvement in the prosecution of this case at all.” 

Klobuchar has been dogged for years over questions on her tenure as Hennepin County attorney, which includes Minneapolis, over criticism that she did not bring criminal charges in case including police-involved deaths. 

Now Floyd’s death, and the reignited national discussion around police misconduct, is putting the spotlight back on Klobuchar just as she’s being vetted as a potential vice presidential pick.

Klobuchar declined to take herself out of the running for vice president on Friday, telling MSNBC that Biden would “make the decision for him, for our country, for the pandemic and the crisis we’re facing.” 

“He will make that decision. He’ll decide who he’s considering,” she added.

Klobuchar also sought to defend her record on race-related issues, acknowledging that there is “institutional racism” and positioning herself as “one of leaders” in the Senate “in terms of pushing for sentencing reform … a leader on voting rights, that’s my record.” 

But Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), a close ally of Biden’s, acknowledged this week that Floyd’s death would likely have an impact on the VP race. 

“We are all victims sometimes of timing,” he told reporters, according to CNN. “This is very tough timing for Amy Klobuchar."

Asked about the same topic during an interview with Vanity Fair, he said that “it certainly won’t help.” 

“But it’s not just this. Her history with similar situations when she was a prosecutor came up time and again during the campaign,” he added. “I suspect this incident plays into that.” 

Biden in a separate MSNBC interview declined to offer specifics on his pick. But on Friday MoveOn, a progressive advocacy group, called on Klobuchar to "immediately take herself out of the running" because of previous role as Hennepin's prosecutor and a "failure to hold the @MinneapolisPD accountable for racism and abuse."

Klobuchar isn’t the only potential VP pick who has ties to law enforcement. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who has faced questions over her record on criminal justice, was California attorney general and  Rep. Val Demmings (D-Fla.) is a former police chief. 

But Klobuchar — who, unlike the other two women, is white — has been trailed for years over questions about her handling of cases when she was prosecutor and skepticism from black voters, who are an influential voting bloc for Democrats. 

Klobuchar faced criticism during the presidential campaign after an Associated Press review found “new evidence and myriad inconsistencies” in the case against Myon Burrell, a black man who was sentenced as a teenager to life in prison after a stray bullet killed an 11-year-old black girl.

Klobuchar subsequently called for an investigation into the handling of the case against Burrell, who was convicted twice — once by Klobuchar and again, after the conviction was reversed, by her successor. 

The Washington Post also reported last year that Klobuchar declined to bring charges in more than two dozen cases where individuals were killed during police encounters — one of several reports from the time that shined new light on her record as a county prosecutor as she battled for the party’s presidential nomination.

Klobuchar has since said her decision to send the cases to grand juries, routine at the time in the state, was “wrong.” 

“I actually no longer think that that's the right way to do it. I think you should take personal responsibility,” Klobuchar said in January at a forum hosted by VICE. 

She added on Friday that she thought “it would have been much better if I took the responsibility and looked at the cases and made the decision myself. But let me make this clear, we did not blow off these cases.” 

Klobuchar has been providing updates to Floyd’s case; she helped break the news on Friday that Chauvin had been arrested. She’s also called for “systemic reform” and a “large scale federal investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department.” 

But she’s also caught criticism including when she put out a statement this week about Floyd's death that did not mention him by name. 

“When I said that Senator Klobuchar should in no way be a VP pick, I'm talking about a person that could write a statement about the police murder of George Floyd without saying POLICE MURDER or GEORGE FLOYD,” Aimee Allison, the founder of She The People, said in a tweet.

Klobuchar’s problems with black voters run deeper than just the new scrutiny she’s facing this week, which has included some calls to withdraw herself from consideration as Biden’s VP. She got approximately 3 percent of the vote in South Carolina. A CNN exit poll had her receiving 1 percent of the black vote. 

A group of black female activists also urged Biden not to pick Klobuchar in a March Washington Post op-ed

“A choice such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), who failed to prosecute controversial police killings and is responsible for the imprisonment of Myon Burrell, will only alienate black voters,” they wrote.