Saturday, October 1, 2011

Statement of House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. Hearing on “Oversight of the Department of Justice”

Statement of House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr.
Hearing on “Oversight of the Department of Justice”

Tuesday, May 3, 2011, at 10:15 a.m.
2141 Rayburn House Office Building
                Attorney General Holder, welcome to the Judiciary Committee this morning.
The Attorney General is the nation's chief law enforcement officer.  He is responsible for enforcing the federal criminal laws, and overseeing the bureau of prisons, the FBI, and numerous additional sub-agencies.  The Justice Department also is responsible for defending civil actions against the United States, as well as enforcing the civil rights laws, the antitrust laws, the copyright laws, the bankruptcy laws, and the criminal components of the environmental and tax laws.
So his responsibilities are many and varied.  

            Now there has already been some criticism of Attorney General Holder’s decisions this morning.  And I expect we will hear some more before we are through, and I have no doubt it will come from both sides of the aisle.  Maybe even from this very chair . . .
But first let us consider a number of areas where the Attorney General has done our nation proud and truly lived up to the weighty responsibilities of his office.  Americans demand many things from their Attorney General - and more than anything else they want a chief law enforcement office who has the courage of his convictions, and makes the hard decisions fairly, honestly, and on the merits.  In Attorney General Eric Holder, we have just that.
As an initial matter, Mr. Holder has stood up for the rule of law in the area of national security.  He supported the end of torture, and released flawed legal memos on this subject. 
He has been the loudest voice in the Administration defending the competence and strength of our federal courts in terrorism cases.  And he has refused to be bullied by those – in this body and elsewhere – who demagogue such issues and pollute our discussion of national security issues with prejudice and fear and politics.  Eric Holder hasn’t won every one of these battles, but we should all be grateful that he has been fighting them.
And that fight remains necessary.  It has been just 36 hours ago since we learned Osama Bin Laden was dead.  Yet already many are turning away from the unity of the moment to the same old politics of fear – using even this momentous event to rehash tired old arguments about torture and Guantanamo Bay.  What a shame.  Is there really no issue on which we can be united as leaders and as a people?  Is nothing above politics in this town?
The death of Bin Laden should cause us all to stop and reflect on our role in the world and on the best path forward for our nation – it should not be trivialized as simply another round in the what many seem to see as the political game of national security.
Mr. Holder’s impact has not been felt in the national security field alone, of course.  Under his leadership, the Civil Rights Division has been reinvigorated.  He and Assistant Attorney General Perez have fought to expand its staff, to defend its budget, and to ensure that our civil rights laws are aggressively enforced on behalf of all Americans. And he has been especially vocal in defending the division against the numerous frivolous pseudo-scandals that political critics of the Administration seem to endlessly dredge up.
It often falls to the Attorney General to make tough decisions on controversial matters.  And Mr. Holder has proven time and again he is willing to make those calls on the merits, even when he knows that the right thing to do on the facts and the law is unpopular.  And even when he knows the legally necessary choice will expose him to brutal political attacks. 
From DOMA to the Arizona immigration legislation to the Muslim teacher in Illinois forced to quit her job to make pilgrimage, Eric Holder’s Justice Department has consistently made tough, honest choices in defense of our constitutional values.
Finally, the Attorney General has shown on numerous occasions that he trusts his people, and is willing to let his US Attorneys and frontline prosecutors follow the facts and law where they lead.  In the critical case of torture, this has meant empowering the special prosecutor John Durham to review the facts and circumstances of US interrogations free from political interference.  That too has not been a popular decision, but it was a necessary one, and a brave one as well.
Now of course, there are also areas where I see issues rather differently than the Attorney General. Let me briefly mention a few of these as well.
After the worst economic upheaval of a generation, and with millions of Americans having lost so much, it has become a new scandal that there has not been a single prosecution of any high ranking Wall Street leader or firm.  The systemic abuses at the heart of the economic collapse – those foisted on our economy by Wall Street barons and the like – have gone unpunished.  This raises the concern that, without real accountability, those who really need to change their ways may not learn the right lessons from our recent calamity.
                The Department’s approach to crack cocaine cases under the Fair Sentencing Act also unfortunate.  That the Department would continue to seek extreme sentences that have been rejected as a policy matter by both the executive and legislative branch makes no sense.  More needs to be done to ensure that so-called “pipeline” cases are handled in a just manner.
In the area of antitrust enforcement and merger review, I have been consistently more impressed by the rhetoric coming out of the Department than by its actions.  As our economy becomes more and more dominated by global mega-firms, there has been just the merest trickling of monopolization cases.  And every major merger that has come in through the Justice Department’s front door has made it out alive – as the record stands now, the next large merger the Department actually seek to block will be the first.

Finally, in the national security area, the Department’s approach to the State Secrets privilege remains deeply troubling.  While the Department has been far more transparent of late than in the past, and I appreciate the State Secrets report recently transmitted to our Committee, its actual decision-making remains flawed.  This privilege is a threat to the separation of powers, and to the right of every citizen to lawfully fight back against government abuse and must be reined in.

Thank you very much Mr. Chairman, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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