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Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco Delivers Remarks at the Farewell Ceremony for Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Mr. Attorney General.

I’ve been remarking for weeks now that I’ve been dreading this day and feel like I’m in mourning.

But I know I’m not alone, you and I will need to enter a support group to deal with the post-Vanita era.

I want to add my thanks to all of you for joining us today to recognize an extraordinary public servant.

I especially want to recognize Vanita’s family — Mr. and Mrs. Gupta, Amita — thank you for being here. To her wonderful husband, Chin, and Chathan and Rohan — thank you for sharing Vanita with us, for the constant sacrifices you’ve made over the past few years to allow her to do this work.

Back in 2020, during the transition — when I first reached out to Vanita to discuss the possibility of her serving as the Associate Attorney General, I didn’t know her well.

We had mutual friends and of course I knew she was an accomplished advocate and a great lawyer — but I saw her true measure during the confirmation process.

That’s when I got the first glimpse of her grace, her grit, and fortitude —

Those qualities have served her — and all of us — well over last three years, as she’s been a brilliant lawyer, an uncommonly effective leader and a valued colleague and friend.

Vanita obviously came to this job with a reputation as a brilliant civil rights lawyer and advocate — but the AG and I have benefitted from her wise counsel across a range of issues.

It would have been easy for her to do this job by occupying a comfort zone of sorts — on civil rights issues. But she didn’t do that.

Of course, the AG made clear at the outset protecting civil rights was the founding mission of the Department — and under Vanita’s leadership, and Kristen’s, the Department has reinvigorated its enforcement efforts and led on criminal justice issues.

Vanita’s leadership has been evident in everything from pattern and practice investigations and thoughtful reforms to the police department monitors policy, to her critical contributions on the Policing Executive Order, to her leadership of the Reproductive Rights Task Force and the landmark Uvalde report.

Vanita has been a champion for the Department’s civil rights work.

And when it came to fulfilling a critical part of the President’s Executive Order by establishing a National Law Enforcement Accountability Database — she has been an indispensable partner. Who better to navigate the creation of a first of its kind database so that it provides transparency, accountability and due process and privacy protections.

But she’s also been a forceful presence on the most difficult litigation facing the Department. Always finding a path forward on the most complex matters — with humanity.

I’ve seen those skills up close as she’s navigated challenging cases — like tort resolutions in devastating mass shootings — where she married mastery of the law with an acute sense of what’s right.

And she never once presented a problem without also proposing a solution.

In addition to being a great lawyer, Vanita is also an uncommonly effective leader.

She showed that by — among other things — building a high functioning team that is all about the work.

You could say she was blessed by a great team — and that’s certainly true — with Matthew Colangelo and then Ben Mizer as principal deputies —with the incomparable Brian Boynton pinch hitting for a few months — and with Peter Hyun and then Betsey Henthorne as chiefs of staff — together with a fantastic front office and deputies.

But Vanita attracted that talent and she built a team that works as a team and one that is collegial, productive, and all about the work for the right reasons — that ethos flows from the top.

And I know it will continue with Ben who will be a fantastic leader for the Associate's Office.

Now, much has been said about Vanita’s skills in finding common ground and building bridges.

Jim Pasco has a great line about Vanita — a quintessential Pasco-ism: In describing her ability to forge common ground he has said “she could talk a dog off a meat wagon.” He’s right, of course, about her ability to resolve issues and reach principled outcomes. But she does so — to strain the metaphor — not by waving a chew toy at the other party but by grappling with different points of view, by genuinely listening and trying to understand the other side, engaging in good faith.

She can disagree without rancor and recognize the principle in different views

I’ve come to rely on Vanita’s wise counsel and good judgement on a weekly basis. For the last few years, she and I have had a weekly meeting — where she’d bring forward to my conference table the thorniest issues she was dealing with — litigation, policy, management, personnel — where the discussion was always about what’s the least bad option.

We came to refer to that meeting — at first, sarcastically but later, affectionately — as the “best meeting of the week”

I say affectionately because there’s nothing more valuable in a colleague than someone willing to roll up their sleeves, put in the work on the hard problem, who doesn’t shirk or pass the buck or avoid.

So when an issue came to me from one of the components who reports first to Vanita, I always knew I was getting something better because she’d worked it.

Someone who’s willing to wrestle with and not run from a problem, someone who engages in good faith and makes decisions with integrity, who builds a team of generous colleagues.

I’ve valued all those qualities and more in Vanita as Associate Attorney General, and I’m grateful to have them in Vanita as a friend for many years to come.

Updated February 12, 2024