Good morning Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Specter, and Members of the Committee.
I want to begin by recognizing those who died and were injured Monday. The tragic events in Blacksburg have shocked and saddened Americans, who have come together this week to grieve, to remember, and to try to make sense out of this senseless act of violence. I offer my prayers and condolences to the victims, their families, and friends.
I also want to recognize the law enforcement personnel who bravely responded to the scene. As I watched Monday’s events unfold, I was filled with pride watching men and women risk their lives and care for victims in the line of duty. Moments like these underscore my commitment to the mission of law enforcement -- and the honor that I have to serve as the Nation’s chief law enforcement officer.
I have provided the Committee with a lengthy written statement detailing some of the Department’s work under my leadership to protect our Nation, our children, and our civil rights. I am proud of our past accomplishments in these and other areas, and I look forward to future achievements.
I am here, however, to answer your questions -- not to repeat what I have provided in writing.
But before we begin, I want to make three brief points about the resignations of the eight United States Attorneys; a topic that I know is foremost on your minds.
First, those eight attorneys deserved better – they deserved better from me and from the Department of Justice which they served selflessly for many years. Each is a fine lawyer and dedicated professional. I regret how they were treated, and I apologize to them and to their families for allowing this matter to become an unfortunate and undignified public spectacle. I accept full responsibility for this.
Second, I want to address allegations that I have failed to tell the truth about my involvement in these resignations. These attacks on my integrity have been very painful to me.
To be sure, I should have been more precise when discussing this matter. I understand why some of my statements generated confusion, and I have subsequently tried to clarify my words. My misstatements were my mistakes – no one else’s; and I accept complete and full responsibility here as well.
That said, I have always sought the truth – in every aspect of my professional and personal life. This matter has been no exception. I never sought to mislead or deceive the Congress or the American people. To the contrary; I have been extremely forthcoming with information. As a result, this Committee has thousands of pages of internal Justice Department communications and hours of interviews with Department officials. And I am here today to do my part to ensure that all facts about this matter are brought to light. These are not the actions of someone with something to hide.
Finally, and let me be clear about this: while the process that led to the resignations was flawed, I firmly believe that nothing improper occurred.
U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President. There is nothing improper in making a change for poor management, policy differences, or questionable judgment, or simply to have another qualified individual serve. I think we agree on that.
I think we also agree on what would be improper. It would be improper to remove a U.S. Attorney to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain.
I did not do that. I would never do that.
Nor do I believe that anyone else in the Department advocated the removal of a U.S. Attorney for such a purpose.
Recognizing my limited involvement in the process – a mistake I freely acknowledge - I have soberly questioned my prior decisions. I have reviewed the documents available to the Congress and have asked the Deputy Attorney General and others in the Department if I should reconsider. What I have concluded is that, although the process was nowhere near as rigorous or structured as it should have been, and while reasonable people might decide things differently, my decision to ask for the resignations of these U.S. Attorneys is justified and should stand.
I have learned important lessons from this experience, which will guide me in my important responsibilities. I believe that Americans focus less on whether someone makes a mistake than on what he or she does to set things right.
In recent weeks I have met or spoken with all of our U.S. Attorneys to hear their concerns. These discussions have been open and frank. Good ideas were generated and are being implemented. I look forward to working with these men and women to pursue the great goals of our Department. I also look forward to continuing work with the Department’s career professionals – investigators, analysts, prosecutors, lawyers, and administrative staff – who perform nearly all of the Department’s work and deserve the credit for its accomplishments.
I want to continue working with this Committee as well. We have made great strides in protecting our country from terrorism, defending our neighborhoods against the scourge of gangs and drugs, shielding our children from predators, and preserving the integrity of our public institutions. Recent events must not deter us from our mission.
I am ready to answer your questions.
I want you to be satisfied, to be fully reassured, that nothing improper was done.
More importantly, I want the American people to be reassured of the same.