PREPARED REMARKS OF
ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES
U.S. ATTORNEYS CONFERENCE
THURSDAY, APRIL 21, 2005
Thank you for that introduction. It's good to be with you today.
This is my first chance to meet with many of you since becoming Attorney General. That means it's also my first chance to say thank you.
You are vital to this Department - and to our Nation. So thank you for your constant efforts on behalf of the American people. They appreciate your hard work and so do I.
I want to take a moment to say a word about one of your alumni, who announced yesterday that he is returning to the private sector. Jim Comey has served this Department with great distinction for almost 15 years. President Bush entrusted Jim with two very important assignments, Deputy Attorney General and U.S. Attorney, and he applied his impressive talents to both jobs with energy and enthusiasm. In both capacities, Jim has been a respected leader in helping to combat crime, both in the boardroom and on our streets, and in defending America against terrorism.
On a personal level, I have very much enjoyed working with Jim both while I was at the White House and as Attorney General, and he will be missed at the Department. I appreciate the sacrifices made by Jim's wife Patrice and their five children during the long period of Jim's government service. On behalf of everyone at the Department, I thank Jim for his service and wish him all the very best as he moves on to a new phase in his career.
I'd also like to thank Mary Beth Buchanan for her service over the past year as U.S. Attorney and Director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys. Last week, I had the pleasure of appointing Michael Battle to be her successor as Director. Mike brings a wealth of experience to this new challenge - as a prosecutor, civil attorney, judge, and public defender - so I know that he is up to the task. We will miss his expertise in the Western District of New York, but you will each gain from his work in this new role.
I also appreciate the continued guidance of the Advisory Committee under Bill Mercer's strong leadership. The Committee's efforts in all areas of the Department's mission have been critical to our success. The work of the AGAC shows that with input and communication from the field, we can achieve our goals.
That's because most of the Department's work doesn't just happen inside the Beltway of Washington, D.C. It happens across the country, in courthouses and federal buildings and in your offices.
Personally, I rely heavily on the work you perform across the country each and every day. No matter how much I travel, most citizens will never see or meet with me. You represent the Attorney General in your district. For many, the only interaction they have with the Justice Department - with their government - will be through you. This is an enormous responsibility, but one I know you are capable of shouldering.
The President has the highest confidence in each of you and he has entrusted you with a great deal of responsibility. I know that you will continue to execute your duties with the humility, integrity, and wisdom the President expects of all his appointees.
Finally, I want to remind you that we are not here to play little ball, we are here to play big ball, to go for the big inning. President Bush often notes that we are "here to make a difference, not to mark time.to confront problems directly and forcefully, not pass them on to future generations."
This is our charge. We cannot stand idly by and allow this opportunity to pass. We must use this second term and exercise bold leadership to fulfill our mission and achieve justice for all. And we can do it by working together as a team.
I'd like to take a moment to highlight some of the areas in which I believe we can make important progress for the American people.
I know you all understand that on September 11th, 2001, the collective mission of the federal government was instantly transformed. At that moment, the top priority of the United States government became - and remains today - to protect our citizens against terrorism.
Thanks to your efforts and those of millions of men and women in federal, state, and local law enforcement, the intelligence community, and our military, we've made some real progress in the war on terror. Yet, despite our successes, the threat posed by al Qaeda and other similar groups is still very real.
Our new challenge is to remain ever vigilant. We cannot grow complacent. We cannot afford to assume the quiet of today will mean peace for tomorrow. As President Bush has reminded us, "we must not allow the passage of time or the illusion of safety to weaken our resolve in this new war."
All of us in the Department of Justice are keenly aware of the continuing threat posed by terrorists - I see it every morning when I begin my day with an intelligence briefing, and you surely see it every day when you work to investigate, track down, and prosecute terrorists.
I am committed to giving you the tools and resources you need to confront this present danger. And that's why we need to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act.
I know how important the tools of the PATRIOT Act are to you in the fight against terror. The PATRIOT Act is working. The law enforcement and intelligence communities are now sharing important information. You are bringing the tools you already use on a daily basis in other criminal areas to bear in the new war on terror subject to the oversight of federal judges and the Congress. No one has provided me with evidence that the PATRIOT Act is being abused or misused.
We are currently engaged in a nationwide discussion about the PATRIOT Act. As I have said, I welcome the views of those who have concerns about the Act and hope that we can have a productive discussion based on the facts. This debate has provided the Department a chance to rebut many of the misconceptions that have emerged about the Act. As I have said, what I will not accept in this debate are changes to our laws that would make America less safe against terror and crime.
I appreciate your advocacy on the front lines regarding the PATRIOT Act. But there is still a great deal of work that must be done to explain to Congress and the American people why the provisions scheduled to sunset in this critical piece of legislation should be renewed.
I will be actively engaged in this debate, as I know you will, for many months. But we cannot forget that prosecuting the war on terror is only one element of our multi-dimensional mission. We must also continue to be vigilant and move aggressively in several other areas to fully promote equal justice for all.
I know that you face a variety of challenges. Some are specific to your district, others - such as the prevalence of illegal drugs and drug-related crimes - are common to most, if not all, of you. I am mindful of those concerns - and have several of my own.
In my first weeks in office, I laid out some of the issues that I consider special priorities for my time as Attorney General, in addition to our top priority of protecting America against terrorism. They are the President's Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative, obscenity prosecutions, victims' rights, human trafficking, immigration reform, and confirmation of judges. In nearly every one, I will need your help to achieve important goals.
Over the past four years, you have made Project Safe Neighborhoods a tremendous success. Not only have you increased federal firearms prosecutions by impressive margins, you've made systematic changes to the way we fight gun crime and violence on our streets. You've employed new strategies that are increasingly helpful to communities working to fight violent crime. Now that this groundwork has been laid, it is time to build new and better methods for even more success.
While the premise of the safe neighborhoods program is to rely on local information and partners to fight local crime, we can also share best practices to deal with common problems across the country - such as the prevalence of gang violence.
The President and the First Lady have spoken about the gang problem, and combating that problem is one of my priorities.
It's clear that gangs have become an increasingly deadly threat to our neighborhoods - nearly seventy percent of you report a significant gun crime problem associated with gangs in your district. So, today, I am announcing several steps we will take to strengthen Department-wide efforts to combat gang violence and reduce crime.
First, I am establishing the Attorney General's Anti-Gang Coordination Committee. This Committee will report directly to the Deputy Attorney General, who will lead the Department's anti-gang activities. The Committee will advise the Department on resource allocation, policy, and budget recommendations that will help us continue to drive down violent crime from gangs. I will be asking two of you to serve on this Committee and I look forward to working with you to make this new effort a success.
Second, I am asking that each of you - in the next month -appoint an Assistant U.S. Attorney to serve as the anti-gang coordinator in your district. I expect this person to prepare a comprehensive, district-wide strategy - in consultation with partners from federal and local law enforcement, social services, and community and faith-based groups - to coordinate anti-gang activity across the board. This strategy should be submitted to the new Anti-Gang Coordination Committee within ninety days.
Lastly, I am directing the Committee to develop a single, integrated, advanced level training regimen. This comprehensive protocol will cover a broad range of topics from gang prevention to investigation to re-entry - and will draw on information and best practices from a variety of experts throughout the Department. When these training methods are put into place, everyone striving to combat gang violence will be working from the same playbook.
For this plan to succeed - for us to achieve measurable reductions in gang activity and violent crime - we must work together at the national and local levels. We'll coordinate processes through the new Committee to be sure you have the tools you need; then you will put those tools into action in the neighborhoods you serve.
To help you do that, we are making available at this Conference the National Gang Threat Assessment. This report gives a "ground-level" view of the gang problem facing our country from those who know it well - state and local gang investigators.
It was prepared by the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations with the combined expertise of the FBI, ATF, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, and the National Drug Intelligence Center. With a contribution from all stakeholders, especially those close to the problem at the state and local level, this document can help us develop an effective national - and regionally appropriate - strategy to combat gang crime and violence.
One of the recommendations of the report is to continue with programs already in place, such as Project Safe Neighborhoods. It's one of the most important tools we have to combat violent crime - which is why you may decide that your coordinator for that program will also serve as your anti-gang coordinator.
With the strong foundation you've built through Project Safe Neighborhoods and the road map provided in the Gang Threat Assessment, we can now create a proactive plan to dismantle gangs and incapacitate their leaders. This includes taking advantage of the powerful federal laws at our disposal - gun laws, drug laws, and the RICO and VICAR statutes - to eradicate this violent threat from our neighborhoods.
For instance, as you may know, Pat Fitzgerald recently testified before Congress on how he has used the Project Safe Neighborhoods program in Chicago to investigate and prosecute the Black Disciples and Mafia Insane Vice Lords street gangs.
We'd also like to enhance our prevention efforts. I encourage you to work with community and faith-based organizations to offer at-risk youth alternatives to gangs and to support re-entry programs for those released from prison - as many of you have already done with great success across the country. To remove the scourge of gangs - and gang violence - from the experience of our Nation's youth, we must depend on an integrated and comprehensive approach that includes prosecution and prevention.
The proactive investigation of gangs and the long-term benefits of prevention programs are difficult to measure. I realize that the results may not be seen right away. But that doesn't mean they aren't worthwhile.
Gang violence is not the only thing tearing at the fabric of our neighborhoods. From street corners to websites, obscenity and child pornography rip at the heart of our moral values and too easily corrupt our communities. I've made it clear that I intend to aggressively combat the purveyors of obscene materials.
I am strongly committed to protecting free speech. The right of ordinary citizens - and of the press - to speak out and to express their views is one of the greatest strengths of our Republic. But, the Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment does not protect obscene materials. And in today's world, those materials are often unavoidable. Enforcement is absolutely necessary if we are going to protect citizens from unwanted exposure to obscene materials.
You've done a good job of prosecuting child pornographers and sexual predators - and we've significantly increased obscenity prosecutions since the beginning of this Administration. But we can go further.
As you know, individual community standards are an integral part of determining which cases are appropriate for prosecution; so you are in the best position to assess the situation in your district and proceed accordingly. But I want you to remember that this Department has an obligation to protect not only our children, but all citizens, from obscenity.
There are examples you can follow. In the Western District of Texas, Johnny Sutton helped win a guilty plea from John Kenneth Coil - a long-time pornography merchant - on charges that included obscenity. Coil ran twenty-seven adult businesses throughout the southwest and defrauded the IRS out of millions of tax dollars. He was sentenced to sixty-three months in jail and ordered to forfeit property estimated at more than eight million dollars.
And just recently, thanks to the work of Richard Roper in the Northern District of Texas and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Criminal Division, a grand jury returned an indictment in the Wedelstedt case that includes obscenity charges related to the alleged operation of dozens of video arcades featuring obscene materials across the United States.
Both of these cases involve large-scale operations with fraud, conspiracy, and tax violations - common related offenses for obscenity offenders. You must be prepared to prosecute these complex offenses to ensure that perpetrators are held fully accountable for their crimes.
I have directed Department officials to carefully review these and other federal laws to determine how we can further strengthen our hand in prosecuting obscenity. And I would like you to assess what methods you can use - or what tools you still need - to more effectively investigate and prosecute these crimes in your district.and report back to me through the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys within ninety days.
The protection of justice cannot sit solely on your shoulders or on mine - or on any one of the Department's 110,000 employees. It's going to be a complete team effort. And while you will play an integral role as we rise to the many challenges that confront us, our goals will not be yours alone to achieve. We will have help from our partners in government at the federal, state, and local level.
For instance, we've partnered with other federal agencies and U.S. Attorneys offices to create more than twenty anti-trafficking task forces across the country to combat the heinous crime of human trafficking. This form of modern-day slavery does not only exist in far away lands; it happens here on our shores. Aliens are smuggled into our country, held in bondage, treated as commodities, and stripped of their humanity. You've already shown large increases in prosecutions and investigations into this evil practice - and I expect that will continue. That's why we're providing copies of our tough, model state legislation to the governors and legislative leaders of more than forty states that don't yet have their own anti-trafficking laws.
As we battle crime, we must also defend the rights of crime victims and assist them in their recovery. That is why this Administration has been the first to urge Congress to pass the Victims' Rights Amendment, which would ensure that victims have a constitutional right to information about the proceedings and to participate appropriately in the proceedings. This is a priority for the President and a priority for me.
There are also measures now pending in Congress that would reform the immigration litigation system. The Department's immigration judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals are charged with making important decisions every day about which aliens will be granted asylum or removed to their own countries.
Under the current system, however, criminal aliens generally receive more opportunities for judicial review than non-criminal aliens. Everyone should be given hearings that are fair and complete. These reforms would ensure that the system does not reward criminals or overburden our court system with unnecessary appeals - and I have urged Congress to send them to the President for his signature.
Lastly, Congress must act to confirm the qualified judges nominated by the President to administer justice in our courts. I know this point needs no further explanation to this audience - you've certainly observed first-hand the crowded courtrooms and full dockets that overburden our federal courts. And you understand as well as anyone that the full protection of the law - the freedom and opportunity that we've each pledged to provide to every American - requires justice in the courtroom.
Justice in the courtroom requires judges who respect the Constitution. President Bush has consistently nominated to the federal bench men and women of the highest integrity that will strictly and faithfully interpret the law. They deserve an up-or-down vote in the Senate, and I hope they each get one soon.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is no time to waste. We have a great deal of work ahead of us and we will need every one of our resources to get it done.
The famed mathematician Archimedes said: "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world."
You are the lengthy lever of this Department. Your collective strength multiplies the effectiveness of our efforts and guarantees the success of our mission. I see my job as providing the fulcrum on which you can go to work: a vision for our country that is secure for freedom, safe from crime, and sure to make good on the promise of justice for all.
Together, we can achieve great things as the President has asked.
Together, we can accomplish our goals through strong leadership.
Together, we can serve the American people with hard work.
Together, we can move the world.