Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Ranking Member Conyers Statement at FBI Oversight Hearing

(WASHINGTON) – Today, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a full committee hearing entitled, “Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” During his opening remarks, Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) delivered the following statement:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
 Today, we welcome Director James Comey of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for his first appearance before the House Judiciary Committee since taking office on September 4, 2013. Director Comey, I do not always agree with the policies of the FBI—but I have great confidence in your commitment to fairness and to the rule of law. In 1996, as Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, you were appointed lead prosecutor in the Khobar Towers bombing case in Saudi Arabia. In 2002, as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, you handled a wide range of complex, high profile cases while helping that district return to some measure of normalcy in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11th. And, in 2004, while serving as Deputy Attorney General of the United States, you refused certify the Bush Administration’s lawless dragnet surveillance program—and then confronted senior White House personnel at the hospital when the Administration sought to gain approval from Mr. Ashcroft directly. Time and time again, you have demonstrated your basic commitment to the rule of law, even in exigent and dramatic circumstances.

“That is why I am pleased that you are at the helm of the FBI on this, the first anniversary of our public discussion about the government’s domestic surveillance programs. Last month, the House passed H.R. 3361, the USA FREEDOM Act.  This legislation is designed to end domestic bulk collection across the board.  It applies to Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the FISA pen register authority, and the national security letter statutes. I am proud to have cast a vote in favor of the only measure to pass the House that rolls back any aspect of government surveillance since the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978.

“But bulk collection is only one aspect of the problem with government surveillance. Over the past few years, our early difficulties with national security letters notwithstanding, the FBI has proven a responsible custodian of the new legal authorities granted to the bureau after September 11th.  For the most part, it uses the tools Congress has provided in the manner Congress intended for them to be used. But the FBI is an end user of massive amounts of data acquired under FISA and other authorities—without a warrant or individualized suspicion.  This raises serious privacy and civil liberties concerns. Director Comey, you are a standardbearer in the struggle to  reign in unlawful surveillance, and I hope that you will work with this Committee to help us restore a measure of public trust in this area.

“Although we have spent much of the last decade focused on counterterrorism, it is critically important that the bureau balance its national security function with its traditional law enforcement mission. In this vein, Director Comey, I would like to discuss with you the scourge of gun violence in this country.  Yesterday’s shooting at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon is at least the 74th school shooting since the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut in late 2012. The FBI maintains the National Instant Background Check System, and the bureau is often called upon to participate in the investigation of high profile shootings.  Because I believe that a more complete background check system would help to stem the tide of violence, I look forward to your views in this matter.

“Similarly, although we face many threats from overseas, the FBI plays a fundamental role in confronting extremist violence here at home. The bureau has called the so-called “sovereign citizen” movement a “growing domestic threat.”  According to the Anti-Defamation League, between 2009 and 2013, there were 43 violent incidents between law enforcement officials and anti-government extremists.  30 police officers have been shot.  14 have been killed. To these numbers, we must now add the two officers shot and killed this past Sunday in Las Vegas, Nevada.  These are not isolated incidents.  Director Comey, Congress has empowered the FBI with considerable authority—including federal hate crimes legislation—to root out this extremism.  I would like to hear more about how the bureau puts these laws and resources to use.

“I would also like to discuss with you the topic of overcriminalization.  The United States represents 5 percent of the world’s population, but incarcerates more than 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. The Bureau of Prisons is strained to the breaking point.  I would like to know why, then, the FBI often recommends federal prosecutions in cases that are already being prosecuted in state court, so that an offender faces trial on the same facts in two separate jurisdiction.

“The FBI plays a critical role in protecting our nation’s computer networks from cyber criminals.  We must do more to prevent the infiltration of our cyber systems from economic and financial criminals.  I would like to hear from Director Comey about the challenges presented by the international aspects of these crimes.

“Finally, I applaud Deputy Attorney General Cole’s recent announcement on the recording of federal custodial interviews—and your support of this new policy. This new presumption—that all FBI custodial interviews will be recorded—helps all sides of the case. Federal prosecutors will finally be able to share recorded confessions with the jury.  And suspects who feel that they have been treated unfairly will be able to fall back on the recorded evidence. There are a few exceptions to the official rule that give me pause, but I will reserve criticism until we see the new policy in action.

“I look forward to learning more about the FBI’s priorities today.  I thank Director Comey for joining us for his first oversight hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.  And I yield back.”

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