Attorney General Remarks to the National District Attorneys Association
May 22, 2001
ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN ASHCROFT: Thank you. Thank you both for standing up and sitting back down. (Laughter.) You all are part of the political process, and you understand that a standing ovation can be a cover for a mass exodus. (Laughter.) We even picked up one during the ovation -- that's great.
It's a pleasure to be with you. I hope you weren't sitting here long. I felt like I was interrupting a wake when I walked in the door. (Laughter.) People have died during my speeches, but never preceding my speeches. (Laughter.)
So, I'm pleased to be here. Bob, thank you very much for your kind introduction. My mother and father -- I wish they had been here. My father would have been proud; my mother would have believed the whole thing. (Laughter.) And, my grandfather, of course -- you're a Minnesotan, aren't you -- my grandfather always used to say, "If I can't find a job in the United States, I'll go back to Minnesota." (Laughter.) And that's -- well, anyhow -- (laughter).
I just had the privilege of coming -- I arrived early this morning coming back from time spent in Mexico City with the law enforcement officials there. And it is very clear to me that the cooperation between law enforcement officials and enforcement authority and Justice authorities have to be more and more integrated and more and more coordinated.
I want to make an adjustment here. I -- not that I -- I just want to be able to see the next president of the organization here -- (laughter) -- and I hope I haven't desecrated Governor Gilmore's flag by moving it back there.
But, it is clear that have to operate and work together, even internationally. And the nature of the criminal activity that we face is so often structured in a way that crosses traditional jurisdictional boundaries that the compartmentalization of the process would be totally unwise and unwarranted.
And I thought to myself as we were driving across the river to come here to be with you this morning, of if it's important for us to have very aggressive working relationships with the law enforcement officials in Mexico, how much more important it is that the law enforcement and Justice and prosecution community here in the United States, for us to work closely together. So, I am delighted that you would invite me to be part of this meeting today.
And even though I've been at the Justice Department for a relatively short time, I've appreciated the opportunity, again, to work with Newman (sp) and with Jim Pauly (sp). And I'm not -- in my first exposure to Newman (sp) Flannigan (sp). Frankly, I had, you know, been attorney general of the State of Missouri back in the last century would be the best way to characterize it for a white-haired gentleman of his stature, and knew him then. And I purposed in my mind that no matter what happened to me politically, I would have to endeavor, and connive, and manipulate the American political system so that I could again work with the one and only Newman (sp) Flannigan (sp) -- (laughter and applause). It wasn't easy, I'll tell you what. (Laughter.)
Let me just say how much I appreciate the long-standing relationship between this great organization and the Department of Justice. The National District Attorneys Association is the hands and feet of justice in America.
I feel a little bit like General Patton, who standing before the troops with his chest weighted with battle ribbons and medals, and one of the observers said, "Well, it's a nice set of hardware you're sporting there, General." And he said, "I wear 'em. They earn 'em." And then he pointed to the troops.
You earn justice. It's part of -- part and parcel of who you are and what you do. And yet the Justice Department role has an important role in prosecutions, but let us not kid ourselves, for the real job of law enforcement, and the real job of maintenance of an orderly society in which individuals and their property is safe is the job you undertake, and it's a decision you make every day about when there's a capacity for prosecution, when there's a sufficiency of the evidence. And America is an orderly society, and is a place of safety, and it is a place of integrity as a result of your efforts.
And so often when people look at America and they think how grateful they are to be in America, they tend to look at the chest of the attorney general and describe to him the medals of those battles, that if I ever wear those medals, it's because you earn them. And it takes but a very limited exposure to another culture, where they have serious problems in relation to the prosecution functions, the investigation functions, and to the adjudication functions in the culture to understand just how important it is for you to undertake your responsibilities with the kind of integrity and intensity and regard for the law that you do.
And this isn't a part of all the canned remarks that the people in the Justice Department have developed for me, but it is a part of what I feel, moving back this morning to Washington, D.C. from my exposure yesterday in Mexico City. And we have a great opportunity there that -- a window of opportunity with the new administration in Mexico. They care deeply about these issues. But frankly, there are things we take for granted which they see as in the realm of aspiration and hope. And you are -- you are the hands and feet of justice.
Democracy and freedom don't mean anything absent justice. I tell folks in the Justice Department that the responsibility of justice is nothing more nor less than the defense of freedom.
When you look at the early history of the United States, you can look at the nuclear cabinet of the first leaders, and of course, you're in the part of the country where the great founders of this country walked. The ate in restaurants here in Alexandria. George Washington had a rather limited cabinet. He had a secretary of state to represent America to foreign nations. He had a secretary of war. And it wasn't a euphemism about it. This guy's job was to make war. And that was to deal with foreign folks. He had a secretary of the treasury to gather the resources. And then he had the attorney general. And
that attorney general's responsible has grown into a justice function, which is the defense of the rights of Americans. And to the extent that there's something special about this hallowed ground we inhabit in America, it's the fact that we defend the rights of individuals with the kind of intensity that preserves freedom and protects it. It's a rule of law that respects it. And that's your job as well.
The defense of freedom is that part of the nuclear cabinet that first emerged that was the single most important thing in terms of the quality of life in America, and the maintenance of that, the defense of the person, the defense of the property, and the defense of potential -- these are the things which motivate me. We need to be free from violence against the persons of individuals. That's why I'm going to spend some time in a few minutes talking about our program in terms of gun crime and how much I've appreciated the participation and the development of that program to date and how much we want to work with you to make sure that it's implemented.
The defense of the property of individuals is something that you're involved in on a daily basis. And when the Department of Justice knows that those are two freedoms -- the freedom for your person and for your property -- we have a special responsibility in terms of the defense of the potential of people, to make sure that each person in the society emerges with the same set of opportunities, that the playing field is level, and that discrimination doesn't rob one person or favor another person, but that the rule of law provides that in this context of freedom we have that great opportunity.
I'd just take this moment to relish with you that the nature of the responsibility we jointly enjoy -- you know, there are responsibilities that might not be the source of joy, but ours is a responsibility to be enjoyed, because it is the focal point of the defense of freedom and liberty, which is the defining characteristic of this culture, which is the culture to which all other societies in the world are oriented, because it is the rule of law and the respect of rights.
Working together to find solutions is the name of the game for us. As I mentioned earlier, if it's important for us to have good relations with our neighbors in other countries, I think we've got to make sure that we have good relations among us. And sometimes I look at these other countries and their structure for justice would appear to be a place where there would be superior justice -- sort of monolithic, and they've got the unitary set of laws.
You know, when I think of all the laws that are enforced by the variety of those of you that are dedicated to this enterprise in this room, it's incredible that it represents 50 states and their legislatures, and it represents a national framework, and it represents local police, and some state police and law enforcement organizations. We have a rather jumbled system in the United States, and yet it is a system that I believe works as well or better because we understand that we're dedicated to this important objective of the defense of freedom and because we understand the need to work together. Working together, we can find solutions. Anyone who says we can do this all from Washington is deluded.
By now, everyone -- well, maybe not everyone -- most of the folks around Washington know my favorite nursery rhyme. I've got a three- year-old grandson, so I find myself, when I'm out in my shop, I lapse into babbling, you know. This was not exactly the confirmation of my -- I mean the subject of my confirmation hearings, but there were those who wondered - (laughter) -- you know, and I found myself saying, you know, Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't Humpty together again.
I don't know how many times I've said that and not thought any profound thoughts. It's not exactly something that inspires you to go out and write a document like the Declaration of Independence. But, it struck me one time that this is pretty negative -- things fell apart and couldn't be reassembled. And I thought maybe that's a picture of America. We've had some challenges. Had a great fall. And all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn't put him together again. And I thought to myself, maybe I've got the emphasis on the wrong syllable. Have you ever got that done before? (Laughter.)
Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't him together again. It didn't mean he couldn't be put together again. It just meant that the federal authorities couldn't do it alone. And I think that's really the story. I don't think all the people in Washington can't get this job done alone. All the king's horses and all the king's -- Newman (sp), you're sitting there grinning like this guy's lost it -- (laughter) -- the only thing that's comforting about that is that's generally the way Newman (sp) looks -- (laughter) -- you know.
And the truth of the matter is we can't do it alone. All the king's horses and all the king's men can't get it done. But if we work together as a culture, the federal authorities and the state and local authorities putting our shoulders to the wheel collectively, we can get it done. We've seen it happen before, and we know we can do it again. That's one of the great parts about the way in which we can cooperate, working together between federal, state and local governments, between federal, state and local prosecutors. And I like to talk about us as more than prosecutors.
You're not the prosecutors alone -- you're justice officials. We all know that prosecution is what happens when justice is somehow interrupted. And we all, I think, have a sense that we want to do more than prosecute. We don't just want to escape our job with notches on the gun to show how many convictions we've got. We have a sense of wanting justice to prevail. That's very important to me.
So that I'd rather prevent an infraction than prosecute an infraction, and I think you would too, and we seek justice -- it's where the rights of people are respected. And I'd just -- I'd rather have the rights of people be respected than the rights of people be remediated when there's been a violation.
So, we all have this kind of capacity to seek more than just a prosecutorial mentality, but we realize that justice requires prosecution, because part of the signal we send about the imperative of justice is that prosecution will be swift and sure and it will be meaningful because we care so much about these freedoms for people and their persons and their property and in their potential. That's the reason we're dedicated to these responsibilities.
And so when we work together, justice requires that we think about ways in which to prosecute that will eventually mean that we will have less infraction, that we have a way of avoiding offense rather than just prosecuting offense, and we do that in a very substantial and intense pursuit of a concept of justice itself.
Now, one of my number one objectives, and I know one of the top objectives of this administration is the reduction of gun crime in our culture. And let me just take a moment to thank the association for its involvement in a task force that helped develop a workable situation that will result in more prosecutions that will help move us to justice, and ultimately the real justice, which is less gun violence. That's what we have as our objective.
And as we develop policies, I've instructed the Department of Justice staff that this model of coordination will not be the exception, it will be the rule. So, putting together the program which the president recently announced -- and I went to Philadelphia with him to announce the program and was delighted to be able to do so -- putting it together was not something that was possible without you. And very frankly, we understand that justice is not possible without you in any respect. The entire concept is based on the idea that we must act as partners to eliminate gun violence.
Partnerships is the first component of the president's identification and explanation of this whole idea. The United States attorney in each judicial district will seek to bring together all law enforcement agencies to ensure a comprehensive approach to the reduction of gun violence. Each U.S. attorney will establish a task force consisting of federal and local officials to review and prepare gun cases for prosecution in the most appropriate forum.
Second, we agreed as part of the plan which you all helped structure that strategic planning was important. The strategic plans will vary from community to community. It's a recognition that you have special wisdom for your community. The idea that somehow the king's men from Washington, D.C. can tell everyone a thousand miles away, or even 100 miles away, what's best for their community is a gross mistake, an error in judgment. We have to understand that tailoring is a concept where we do the things that will work and that meet the needs on a local level.
The mass produced model is no longer the model of success in American culture. It was 100 years ago, when Henry Ford in 1932 said you could have your Ford any color you want it so long as it's black -- you remember that? He had about -- I think he had 80 percent of the automotive market. Ten years later he had 25 percent of the market. And he shortened his slogan. Instead of -- you can have your Ford any color you want so long as it's black -- he just said you can have your Ford in any color you want it.
That's because he understood that we -- the automotive industry was sort of the industry of the last century, I think it's fair to say -- and tailoring began there. And pretty soon you could buy a car with two doors, or four doors, a soft top or a hard top, any color you wanted it, leather, non-leather. You got to the door locks, the tinted glass. You know -- you know what it is now. It's an encyclopedic thing.
If that was the industry of the last century, the industry of this century is even more into tailoring.
There's a little company in Round Rock, Texas -- who ever heard of that before Mr. Dell went down there and started building computers? And you call them up and talk to them on the phone, and they build the computer to your specifications.
Yes, mass customization is the wave of the future, not mass production. It's the way the world is going. And that's why the genius of the American system is the recognition that we customize and we adjust, and adapt that which we do to meet local needs because people know best what they need. Henry may have thought he had the perfect color for all the automobiles, but people thought differently. And we've got to recognize that.
That's why in our strategic planning we've got to go from community to community with the overall goal of reducing gun violence. Yes, transportation is still the overall goal for the car, but the individual, the consumers make judgments about what best meets their needs. Each strategy will contain the core components of how do we gather intelligence about where the crime is committed, and enforcement policy and specialized units.
Training. The Department of Justice will partner with the ATF and with the National District Attorneys Association and local law enforcement to conduct innovative, regional cross-training and involving prosecutors and agents participating in gun crime enforcement.
Outreach. The United States attorneys will work with existing coalitions in establishing new coalitions in the communities, tapping your expertise and understanding to make sure that we reach out to those in the community who help us communicate a message to promote justice. And part of that message is if you use a gun to do the crime, you'll spend in jail some real jail or hard time.
Accountability. The United States attorneys will receive resources to measure the long-term impact of the programs they implement. And frankly, we want an impact measurement that's not just how many inputs we have. So often in government we brag about the programs by saying how much we're spending. But we really need to know how the programs are ending -- not ending in terms of their terminating, but what's the outcome? Do we have a reduction in the kind of threat to the orderly
society and the rule of law that we ought to have.
Now, this program will be funded by a substantial commitment of new resources available this year and in subsequent years. I believe that we're going to be able to make a difference if we work hard together. 15.3 million in funding for 113 new assistant attorneys general. Those are people in the U.S. attorneys office to serve as full-time gun prosecutors. $75 million for new state and local gun prosecutors to work in partnership with federal law enforcement authorities. $75 million is expected to fund approximately 600 additional prosecutors at the state and federal level. $44 million in state criminal records history.
These are the improvements of our criminal history records to ensure that state criminal records are current and that we can use the information to make ourselves more effective in prosecution. $19.1 million to fund and expand ATF's youth crime guninterdiction initiative. $41.3 million to fund the expanded ATF integrated violence reduction strategy, which targets gun crime trafficking. Armed violent offenders and prohibited gun buyers identified by the national instant check system.
Now, the development of a community outreach tool kit for United States attorneys is part of this program so that they have the resources needed to communicate this understanding of what the president has labeled as Project Safe Neighborhood. It's a message to the community.
So, we're going to work together in projects, and I look forward to working together with you, and I'm grateful for the kind of input that you have.
But we want to institutionalize that kind of input. We don't want it to be in one project and not in others, so another way for us to work together is to formalize communication about issues that are important to all prosecutors -- state, local and federal. In 1979, that communication was not taking place. Following concerns raised by this organization, the NDAA, the Executive Working Group was founded in the Department of Justice. And although it serves an invaluable function, providinga mechanism for an ongoing exchange of ideas and concerns, that group has not now met in over a year. And I have instructed my staff to begin putting together a meeting of the Executive Working Group as soon as it's possible, that we would have our U.S. attorneys in place. I think it's really a -- you know, most of these things you want to get going just ASAP, but I think it would be a good idea to wait until we get the new U.S. attorneys in place so that when we build -- when we build that first meeting, we start to build the relationships that will be a core to our cooperation and our sensitivity to getting the job done.
Well, as I said, all the king's horses and all the king's can get it done. It means it's got to take more than the federal folks. I think you understand that there's another -- another sort of emphasis that's to be understood in that context as well, and that is it's going to take more than just us professionals. This is something that requires the commitment of our communities, because law enforcement is the business of the public. It's simply too important a function. It is at the core of what it means to be a free society and a culture, and if we get the community and the people of this great nation to participate in law enforcement, we cannot fail. If we don't get the community and the people and the families of this great nation to participate in law enforcement, we cannot succeed.
And it's with that in mind that this idea of partnership has to go beyond those of within the professional community that to build law enforcement that we have to reach out to the citizenship community and welcome the entirety of America into this process of respecting law and defending freedom, and understanding that the persons, and the property, and the potential of Americans should be and can be defended effectively when we work together as a unit, and we care together as a unit about what it means to be free, and what America means as a special place that sends a signal about the value of freedom around the world.
It's an honor for me to work with you. And not just an honor, it's a pleasure. It is a great opportunity for me to have a bit of a homecoming with the law enforcement community.
Newman (sp), can't you take a joke? Now don't be too offended -- the fact that we've been friends all the years -- it hasn't hurt your reputation too much so far, and it won't in the future.
Thank you very much. God bless you, and God bless America. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: General, I think everybody in this room now knows why we welcome your service and look forward to working with you. And symbolic of that relationship, let me give you something to wear when you're out in the shop working on that, and thinking about that, a little NDAA shirt.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: I'll wear it with thanks for your hard work, and affection for our opportunity to work together. Thanks very much.