Tuesday, March 21, 2017

CONYERS Statement At Hearing With DOJ IG & GAO Directors Of Justice & Homeland Issues

Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) provided the following remarks at a hearing entitled, “Examining Systemic Management and Fiscal Challenges Within the Department of Justice” featuring Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz and U.S. Government Accountability Office of Homeland Security and Justice Director Diana Maurer:

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. 

And thank you to our distinguished guests for joining us today.

Mr. Chairman, I understand that you have framed this hearing around management and fiscal challenges at the Department of Justice.

Like you—and like our witnesses from the Government Accountability Office and the Office of the Inspector General—I believe that meaningful oversight of the Department of Justice requires us all to be good stewards of taxpayer funds.

There are many areas we can pursue, including the disproportionate amount of the Department’s budget that is consumed by prison spending.  In addition, the Inspector General has issued a report specifying serious problems with privately operated prisons, which do not maintain the same level of safety and security as Bureau of Prisons facilities and which do not provide an adequate level of rehabilitative services.  These are troubling issues that many of my colleagues, including Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and I have focused on over the years. 

However, given the roles our witnesses play in more pressing developments at the Department of Justice, I would also like to focus my time today on a few, more discrete issues.

First, on the topic of fiscal management, I wonder if our witnesses can speak to the budget priorities of the Trump Administration.

This Committee has oversight of the United States Secret Service—an agency that provides protection to the President every time he travels to New York or Florida for the weekend, and to his family as they travel the world to advance the interests of the Trump Organization.

It seems to me that the GAO is the right organization to evaluate the cost of that protection to the taxpayer, and to place that cost in the context of a proposed budget that makes deep cuts to a number of important programs.

Second, on February 17, 2017, Mr. Jeffries and I wrote a letter—signed by many of my colleagues—to you, Mr. Inspector General.

In that letter, we asked your office to investigate two matters: (1) whether the Trump Administration has engaged any improper effort to intimidate or threaten whistleblowers, and (2) whether Attorney General Sessions has a conflict of interest that requires his recusal from any matter involving contact between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.

Let me be clear: I do not condone the leaks of classified information to the press. 

But the President has gone out of his way to intimidate virtually any individual hoping to expose misconduct in the Trump Administration—including but not limited to random searches of personal cell phones, and general harassment via Twitter.

I know that the Inspector General agrees that whistleblowers are key to identifying waste, fraud, and abuse, and I hope his office is looking into the matter.

Finally, on March 16, 2017, I again wrote to the Inspector General, this time asking about improper contacts between the White House and the Department of Justice.

We know that the White House Chief of Staff has called the Director and Deputy Director of the FBI, asking them to comment publicly to “knock down” reporting he did not like.

We also know that President Trump placed a phone call to Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the day before the Administration summarily fired all 46 sitting U.S. Attorneys.
And, we know that these calls are in direct violation of standing guidance at the Department of Justice, prohibiting contact between its investigators and the White House except in extraordinary circumstances.

To their credit, none of these officials complied with pressure from the White House.  Knowing the Department’s rules about such contacts, Mr. Bharara did not even take the call.

Nevertheless, I fear that the White House has ignored this important policy—and that further investigation by the Inspector General is warranted.

I look forward to our discussion on these and other matters today, I thank the Chairman, and I yield back.

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