Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.
As is common, I like to begin my speeches with a quick joke.
But yesterday, I ran into a problem. I spoke at an antitrust awards ceremony at the Justice Department…and I thought long and hard, but in the end I had to give them the bad news that there is absolutely nothing funny to say about antitrust law. Literally, nothing funny at all.
And earlier this week, I spoke to the inspector general’s office at the Justice Department… nothing funny there either.
Of course, with today’s audience I had the reverse problem… there was just too much material to choose from.
It reminds me of a time a few years ago when I attended a dinner with one of my former colleagues on the Texas Supreme Court, Justice Priscilla Owen. You may have heard of her. She’s been in the news lately.
Justice Owen got up to make a few remarks, and she told some jokes at my expense. I pretended to laugh along with the crowd of course. But later, I told her that was an “unconscionable act of judicial activism.”
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I have been Attorney General for a little more than a hundred days. When I took office, I told the American people that I would work toward specific goals. A few weeks into my tenure, I detailed a set of priorities on which I pledged to focus my energy.
I have had the chance to review this time and evaluate some of the things I have learned, some of the progress we’ve made, and some of the work that still must be done for the American people.
First, let me say a couple of words about the philosophy I bring to the job of Attorney General. I expect to have an open dialogue – not only about our successes, but also our challenges. In this job – and the job of public service in general – communication is key.
I think that when it is not inconsistent with national security or law enforcement interests, the government should always try to educate the American people about what we are doing, why we are doing it, and, if there is a question, why what we are doing is lawful.
This kind of dialogue is important in a democracy, and from my perspective, I find it very helpful because it can help clarify the debate and eliminate any potential for misunderstanding. So I welcome this opportunity to talk to you and answer your questions. But before I do, I would like to spend a few moments reporting what I have learned during my first few months, and how I think the Department of Justice is doing.
I took the oath of office committed to taking charge of the vast and critical responsibilities that fall to the Attorney General. Each day since has been a chance to go to work for this great Nation, an opportunity to earn the confidence and trust of the American people.
I’ve had the chance to listen to countless people – leaders, advocates, and citizens – all stakeholders in the greatest system of justice the world has ever known. I value their input, and I’ve learned from them and others that communication is paramount to effective policymaking.
The Justice Department has outstanding career employees – more than 100,000 strong – whose experience and expertise enrich our efforts every day.
From their wisdom, I can effectively develop strategies that further our critical mission: to combat terrorism, to fight crime, to protect our communities, and to preserve the American dream for this – and future – generations.
The President has repeatedly reminded his Cabinet that we are not here to mark time or play little ball. Instead, he has instructed us to play big ball, to go for the big inning, to exercise bold leadership for a better America.
At the Department, we have the opportunity to help our President make the American dream come true for more Americans. I do not intend to bide my time as Attorney General. In my tenure, I hope to harness the great strength and tradition of the Department of Justice to make a difference.
The American taxpayers deserve nothing less. They deserve to know how we’re doing. Are we giving them a good return on their investment? Are their families safer? Are their neighborhoods more secure? Are they each being protected equally under the law? Is their government accountable?
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September 11 th gave all of us – especially those of us in public service – a common purpose. Since the first plane crashed into the North Tower, we have struggled with an enemy of violent extremists, unafraid to use terror to intimidate and threaten the United States. I do not believe they intended merely to kill Americans that day. They also intended to demoralize our spirit. It was an assault on on our values and on our way of life.
This is a conflict well beyond bullets and guns. It cannot be won by our military alone. It will require the combined resources and effort of every agency of our government.
The President quickly concluded that the September 11 th attacks were not simply a criminal matter. He knew that fighting terrorism would be the number one priority of the Federal government, and the primary mission of the Justice Department.
Now, three-and-a-half years later, each day takes us a little bit further from the awful memories of burning buildings, terrified citizens, and good-bye phone calls. It is important, of course, that we all live our lives as normally as possible, but I worry that the shock, the grief, the anger we all felt has been diminished by time. Think about what each of you wrote or reported that day, and the days and weeks following September 11 th. The stories you told. The images you described. Over time, it is natural that such images fade and priorities change. But we must never forget.
There is no question that we have enjoyed successes in our global war on terror.
Are we safer as a result of these successes? Yes. But are we completely safe? No.
I am briefed every morning at the FBI on the current terrorist threats. I meet in the Oval Office with John Negroponte, Porter Goss, Bob Mueller, and Mike Chertoff, to review this information with the President and the Vice President.
We at the Department are constantly communicating with our interagency partners, and state and local agencies, to share information, in order to keep America safe from further attacks. In my speeches over the past three months, I have repeatedly cautioned against complacency. Let me assure you that, at the Justice Department, we have not, and will not, become complacent. The stakes simply are too high.
The President constantly challenges us to look for areas in which we can improve our capabilities.
Recently, the Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction delivered its report to the President. It included recommendations for improving the effectiveness of our intelligence community, including a reorganization of the FBI and the creation of a national security division within Main Justice. We are looking carefully at these ideas, and others, to make sure we are as effective and efficient as we can be.
Even before these recommendations, I had asked for a comprehensive review of our counter terrorism efforts, to see whether we were properly allocating people and resources to meet our priorities. I will have the results of this review shortly, as well as the Department’s views on the recommendations of the WMD Commission – and will then be in a position to make recommendations to the President.
Because the threat remains, we must continue to provide law enforcement with the tools it needs to take the fight to our terrorist enemies – and one of those tools is the PATRIOT Act. Over the past several weeks, I – and others in the Department – have testified before Congress about the importance and effectiveness of these authorities. And United States Attorneys from around the country have shared stories of the Act’s usefulness from the front lines of the war on terror – both with Congress and in public forums.
This is all part of our effort to focus on the facts. That’s why we have de-classified information about the frequency with which we’ve used some of the authorities of the Act. The Department has rebutted many misconceptions. There has not been one single verified violation of civil rights or civil liberties in the three-and-a-half year history of the PATRIOT Act.
Many of the authorities can only be exercised with the permission of a Federal judge, and many of the provisions that have been called extraordinary have long been available to prosecutors in criminal cases.
Now, let me share with you my views about civil liberties and the right to privacy. Like all Americans, I cherish these important values. They are principles that stand at the very heart of what it means to live in freedom. And I am committed to preserving these rights in everything we do at the Department.
That’s why I have tried to keep an open mind and have been willing to listen to those who have ideas they believe will clarify or strengthen the law. So, here I am. Let’s talk. Let’s debate the facts. What I will not accept, are changes to our laws that would make America less safe against terrorism and crime.
We can – and we will – protect our civil liberties and our citizens from terrorism. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Even as we at the Department focus on terrorism as our number one priority, we have continued our traditional emphasis on fighting crime and protecting our communities.
There are several specific threats to America’s communities on which I want to place a special emphasis during my time as Attorney General. And I laid out these priorities during my first weeks in office.
First, we must fight violent crimes – especially crimes that steal the future from our children.
Second, we must combat crimes that tear at the fabric of our society – especially obscenity and the heinous crime of human trafficking.
And finally, we must protect the rights of crime victims.
Crime doesn’t just happen somewhere else…across the river, in the city, or solely on the movie screen. Gang violence, sexual exploitation, child pornography, obscenity, human slavery…these things may be hard to imagine, but they happen in hometowns and neighborhoods – from Houston to Boston, from small towns to urban street corners.
Our work on these issues continues, and each will remain an area of intense focus for the Department in the coming months and years. And we already have made measurable progress in these areas. The credit for these successes can be shared between the Department’s dedicated workforce and our partners at the Federal, state, and local levels.
The violent crime rate has fallen dramatically over the past four years thanks to the efforts of law enforcement and the success of programs like the President’s Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative. Communities across America are safer today than they’ve been in three decades.
Project Safe Neighborhoods has a record of success – producing impressive double-digit increases in prosecutions of firearms violations.
We rely on local information and local partners to fight local crime. The beat cop, the county sheriff, the lifelong investigator – they understand what is happening in their towns and cities…and they know what needs to be done to stop it.
We know that as long as there is any crime on our streets, we will not be safe enough. We can do better. So we’ve applied the strategies pioneered under Project Safe Neighborhoods to other important crime fighting programs, such as the Violent Crime Impact Teams.
In my first few weeks, we expanded the Violent Crime Impact Team initiative to five additional cities: Hartford, Camden, Houston, Fresno, and New Orleans. It is now operational in 20 cities across the country.
These rapid-response teams target hot-zones for violent activity and identify a community’s worst offenders. They then combine the resources of Federal, state, and local law enforcement in order to investigate and prosecute violent crimes – especially gun crimes.
Many communities have street thugs or gangs that make people afraid in their own neighborhoods. They are known by street cops, by community leaders, and by concerned parents. The goal of Violent Crime Impact Teams is to take these bad guys off the street, and take back the neighborhood for law-abiding citizens.
We know this program works. Last year, the Department launched fifteen Violent Crime Impact Teams in cities across the country. The effects were felt right away – as these specialized crime-fighting teams locked up some of the most violent criminals.
In Baltimore, we arrested drug dealers. In Richmond, we arrested 23 members of the violent Broad Rock Boys. In Miami, we seized more than 750,000 rounds of ammunition. In city after city, the story was the same: Gun crime equals hard time.
Now, we also are prepared to apply the proven methods of the Project Safe Neighborhoods program to fight the pervasive threat of gang violence.
We see the imperative for immediate action. Too many parents know what it’s like to have a child trade-in a library card for gang membership…to choose the distinctive clothing of a gang over a Little League jersey. We have to give our children better alternatives. It is clear that gangs have become an increasingly deadly threat to our neighborhoods. This threat is robbing our communities of future employees and future leaders.
That’s why we are strengthening our Nation’s efforts to combat gang violence and reduce crime. I recently established the Attorney General’s Anti-Gang Coordination Committee. This group will advise the Department on how we can best use our resources to reclaim communities, block by block, from the grip of gangs.
I have asked every United States Attorney to appoint an anti-gang coordinator, and to prepare and implement a comprehensive, district-wide strategy – in consultation with local leaders – to coordinate anti-gang activity across the board.
We’ve also taken new steps to keep communities safe from sexual predators. As the father of school-age children, this is of particular concern to me. The silent sex offender can be just as dangerous as notorious neighborhood gang members.
Today, I am pleased to announce that by the end of this year, the Department will launch a nationwide, Internet-based, searchable National Sex Offender Registry.
Names like Jessica Lunsford and Megan Kanka highlight the importance of this new technology. Their smiles – wiped away forever by sex offenders – are a constant reminder that we must keep parents and communities informed and engaged.
The National Sex Offender Registry will provide one-stop access to registries from the 48 states that have them. And we will work with the two remaining states, to be sure that everyone gets on board with this important public notification system. With this technology, every citizen and law enforcement officer will be able to search the latest information for the identity and location of known sex offenders.
Our goal is to have 20 states live and available for public searches within 60 days – and the rest online this fall.
And earlier this week, I signed a final rule that will help the Department prevent children from being exploited in pornographic materials. The rule requires producers of pornography to verify that their performers are not minors, and establishes a detailed Federal inspection system to make sure producers are keeping appropriate records – and keeping children out of pornographic materials.
By clarifying – and strengthening – the rules regarding child pornography, we’re taking steps to protect the most vulnerable among us from sexual exploitation.
Another priority I have outlined is the aggressive and effective prosecution of those who create, sell, and distribute obscenity. I am strongly committed to ensuring the right of free speech. But the Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment does not protect obscene materials.
This month we took action on this priority when we announced the formation of an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force. This Task Force will be staffed with our best and brightest: Prosecutors with expertise not only in obscenity prosecutions, but also in racketeering, money laundering, and computer crimes.
As I mentioned early in my tenure, one of the most disturbing crimes in our world today is the modern-day slavery of human trafficking. We are advancing President Bush’s call to combat this moral evil.
Tragically, the victims of human trafficking are often those without a voice or advocate. They usually are aliens, many of them women and children, smuggled into our country, seeking the American dream, but held as slaves, and denied any semblance of respect or human dignity.
If it sounds like something that could only exist overseas, in some third world country, think again. Not only does this terrible evil happen here on our shores, it can happen right next door.
We have taken an aggressive stance against human trafficking. In 2004, the Department created more than 20 anti-trafficking task forces around the country. Their work, coupled with our ongoing efforts, have yielded increases in prosecutions and investigations.
Those numbers should rise even further when individual states join the fight. Incredibly, there are many states where this horrible act is still not a crime. That’s why I reached out to more than 350 governors and state legislators across the country, encouraging them to enact the Department’s model anti-trafficking statute in their states, in order to help us combat the abhorrent practice of human trafficking.
While these efforts – and others throughout the Department – center on investigating and prosecuting offenders, we’ve also tried to improve our efforts on behalf of crime victims.
Convictions and sentences are important. It’s also essential that we defend the rights of victims, and assist them in their recovery.
Imagine that the most important person in your life falls victim to a violent crime. You’d want to take care of them, protect them, and help them make a complete recovery – both physically and emotionally.
We realize that we have a special responsibility to crime victims at the Justice Department. We must strive to be another partner on the road to recovery – for every single victim of crime.
Earlier this month, the Department adopted new guidelines on victim and witness assistance. We realize that, for many victims, part of the healing process involves an active role in tracking the case of the person who victimized them. These new policies ensure that the Department respects the rights of victims as we prosecute suspected offenders. And they ensure that we provide information and services to those who need it in order to minimize their suffering.
Finally, because it is so topical, I want to say a few words about judges. In order to continue to provide justice for victims, we must have judges in our courtrooms. This is a priority that I share with the President and the American people. We need a Federal judiciary comprised of men and women of integrity, character, and professional excellence. As White House Counsel, I recommended each of these individuals to the President. Including my good friend and former colleague, Justice Priscilla Owen – who would make an outstanding judge on the 5 th Circuit. I know that Justice Owen, Justice Janice Rogers Brown, and every one of the President’s nominees is a jurist who believes in strictly and faithfully interpreting the law.
Every one of President Bush’s nominees deserves an up or down vote.
These are just a few of the matters that I worry about. We are off to a good start, but it is only a beginning.
The men and women of the Department of Justice know that we cannot rest long on past accomplishments.
We know that each day is an opportunity to enhance our security, to expand our freedom, to protect opportunity, and to achieve justice for all.
We come to work every morning knowing that this responsibility – and the privilege of serving the American people – falls on our shoulders.
Those shoulders are strong, sturdy, and willing to stay the course…so that the enduring lights of justice – and the rays of the American dream – continue to shine on all who seek their blessings.
Thank you, again, for welcoming me here today. May God bless you and your families, may He continue to give you wisdom in your reporting, and may He continue to bless the United States of America.