Top DOJ Civil Rights Official: Do 'Not Give In to Fear' Over Trump Election

Official's message to Americans comes amid turmoil in transition.

ByABC News
November 16, 2016, 5:52 PM

— -- A top Justice Department official has a message for those feeling uneasy about Donald Trump’s election: Do “not give in to fear and anxiety.”

“Wait and see what happens," Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said at an event in Washington today promoting gay, lesbian and transgender issues.

African-American, Latino and Muslim groups have expressed concern that Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail — widely criticized for being racist and discriminatory — will be reflected in his administration. Anti-Trump protests have erupted in cities across the country.

Gupta was asked today whether she's concerned Trump will nominate leaders to the Justice Department who are anti–civil rights.

“Right now, there’s a lot of uncertainty, to say the least,” she responded. “Uncertainty produces anxiety and fear. And I can’t say what will happen.”

She noted that the civil rights division is filled with “career lawyers” who “are so incredibly mission-driven in the work that they are doing,” and she said what they have done under Barack Obama’s administration will carry on.

“There are communities and individuals that are relying on the work of those career lawyers to do that, and these are men and women who are used to ... working upstream,” Gupta added. “My hope is that ... there is an awareness and a sensitivity to the importance of the civil rights division’s work.”

But she emphasized that there’s “so much that we don’t know.”

“I don’t even know who’s going to be the head of the DOJ transition team at this point,” she said, referring to the unexpected departure of former Justice Department official Kevin O’Connor, who had been handling the Justice Department transition for Trump.

Other Trump supporters have also been fired from their transition posts in what is a suspected purge of officials brought in by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was himself recently removed as the head of the transition effort.

Last week former and current federal prosecutors welcomed news that O’Connor — described as having a good reputation among career attorneys in government — would be helping shape the next Justice Department, sources told ABC News.

Speaking with ABC News before news of O’Connor’s departure became public, at least one of Trump’s Democratic critics, Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., said O’Connor’s role in the transition would “go a long way toward easing people’s concerns.”

“Equal justice under the law — he is the personification of that,” Larson said of O’Connor, a Republican. “While we may not agree on everything philosophically, I know the values he [would] bring to that decision-making process.”

“He would be my choice for attorney general,” Larson said.

But now O’Connor is out of the mix.

Names like Jeff Sessions, a conservative Alabama senator with a long record in legal affairs and federal law enforcement, and Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor, are being floated as the next attorney general.

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