Exclusive: DOJ civil rights leader says she was a victim of abuse in extraordinary statement

The leader of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Kristen Clarke, said in an extraordinary personal statement shared with CNN that she was a victim of years-long domestic abuse and chose not to disclose an expunged arrest record from that period during the Senate confirmation process.

Clarke’s now-expunged arrest, which reportedly occurred during a domestic dispute, quickly became a cause célèbre among right-wing media and lawmakers who claim she lied during her 2021 Senate confirmation hearing, with some calling for her resignation.

“Nearly 2 decades ago, I was subjected to years-long abuse and domestic violence at the hands of my ex-husband,” Clarke wrote in the statement on Wednesday.

“This was a terrorizing and traumatizing period that I have sought to put behind me to promote my personal health, healing and well-being. The physical and emotional scars, the emotional abuse and exploitation, and the lying are things that no woman or mother should ever have to endure,” Clarke said.

In a written questionnaire from Republican Sen. Tom Cotton for the record before her Senate confirmation, Clarke answered “no” to a question asking whether, “since becoming a legal adult, have you ever been arrested for or accused of committing a violent crime against any person?”

Clarke acknowledged that she was arrested in her statement on Wednesday but said the arrest was expunged – meaning it was removed from her record and no longer exists – and that she wasn’t required to disclose it.

“When given the option to speak about such traumatic incidents in my life, I have chosen not to,” Clarke wrote. “I didn’t believe during my confirmation process and I don’t believe now that I was obligated to share a fully expunged matter from my past.”

Sen. Mike Lee criticized Clarke after the expunged arrest was reported by The Daily Signal and picked up by other outlets. “She lied under oath during her confirmation proceedings, and should resign,” the Utah Republican said on X.

While it’s unclear what happened in Clarke’s case, court records can be expunged in a number of circumstances, including when prosecutors decline to bring charges, and experts on domestic violence say victims of abuse are often arrested, even when they called police for help.

Clarke’s divorce was finalized in 2009, according to court records. CNN has been unable to reach Clarke’s ex-husband for comment.

Clarke said she has brought her “personal experience and perspective of being a survivor of domestic violence” to her work. “As I have done at every stage of my career as a life-long public servant, I will continue working to ensure that we carry out our work in a way that centers the experiences and needs of crime victims,” she said.

CNN’s Devan Cole contributed to this report.

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