Thursday, November 19, 2015

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. Full Committee Hearing on “Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice”

Dena of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“Madam Attorney General, welcome to the House Judiciary Committee.

            “Nearly seven months ago, after much delay in the Senate, you took over for our friend Eric Holder at the Department of Justice. 

            “With, not one, but two tours of duty as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, you are unquestionably the right leader at this moment for the important work of the Department.

            “Nowhere is your leadership more important than in national security.  The attacks on Paris leave no doubt that our most pressing mission—yours and ours—remains protecting the American people. 
“Unfortunately, history shows that tragic events like these are followed by calls for drastic action.  Already we have heard proposals to undo encryption, roll back surveillance reform, and deport some of the most vulnerable among us.

            “I urge restraint in these matters, Madam Attorney General.  At this time, we have very little information about how the attacks were carried out.

            “Rather than use these events as an excuse to advance policies that otherwise betray our values, I urge the Intelligence Community—including the Department of Justice—to focus on the most effective tools in our toolbox: targeted surveillance, targeted investigations, and smart policing.

            “Back at home, you have cultivated strong relationships in the police community—but you are not afraid to call out bad behavior, or to prosecute police officers when circumstances warrant.
“That experience will prove invaluable as the Department, along with this Committee, takes its next steps on criminal justice reform.

            “Under your leadership, the Civil Rights Division continues its work with police departments around the country to ensure that state and local policing practices comport with the Constitution.

            “The Office of Juvenile Justice is also working hard to disrupt what you have called the ‘cycle of criminality and incarceration.’

            “I commend you for your work on this front, and I look forward to our partnership as this Committee moves forward with its own package of criminal justice reforms.

            “Another area where we look to your leadership is in the enforcement of voting rights.

            “Earlier this year, observing the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, you remarked:

            “It is the lesson of every generation that the price of freedom is constant vigilance, because opponents of free and fair access to the voting booth have neither retreated nor surrendered.”

            “The unfortunate truth of that statement plays out across the country today—no place more vividly than in Alabama, where officials plan to close 31 driver’s license offices across the state, including those in every county in which African Americans make up more than 75 percent of registered voters.

            “Coupled with Alabama’s strict new voter-ID law, these closings will make it even harder for many citizens to obtain the identification now required to cast a vote.

            “The discriminatory impact of this plan plays out in other ways too.  Imagine having to drive hundreds of miles across rural Alabama to renew your driver’s license.  We know that this burden will weigh heaviest on the state’s poorest citizens. 

            “Borrowing again from your words: ‘it is incumbent on all of us . . . to stand up, to speak out, and to make clear that no end is worth the means of disenfranchisement.  [N]o small-minded policy is worth the cheapening of our democracy.’

            “Finally, Madam Attorney General, I want to comment on the virtue of your being a new leader at the Department of Justice, ready to make a fresh start with this Committee.

            “Today, you will hear questions about Benghazi, Planned Parenthood, Solyndra, Operation Fast & Furious, and Lois Lerner of the IRS. 

            “These are not matters that affect many of our constituents, but you will hear questions about them anyway. 

            “My advice for you is this: stick to the facts and the law and you’ll be fine.

            “We know that some members are displeased with the outcome of the Department’s investigation into the Lois Lerner matter. 

            “But we also know that your investigators were as thorough as can be: they conducted more than 100 interviews, collected more than one million pages of documents, and closely analyzed almost 500 applications for tax-exempt status. 

            “Some members wish your predecessor had appointed a special counsel to investigate the matter.

            “But both the plain text of the applicable regulations and the Congressional Research Service tell us otherwise.

            “The facts of the case did not involve senior Administration officials.  They did not present a conflict of interest to the Department of Justice. 

            “And so, the appointment of special counsel was simply not appropriate in this matter. 

            “Too often, your predecessor—whom I still admire very much—found himself the target of personal insults, in this Committee and elsewhere. 

            “I like to think that all of us in this room regret the frequent attacks on his character—or at least realize that those attacks were almost entirely unproductive. 

            “We have a chance to start over today.  We can do better.  Progressives and conservatives, Congress and the Administration—there is so much common ground between us to be explored, particularly in the work of the Department of Justice. 

            “I am glad that you are with us today, and I look forward to your testimony.”
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