Chairman Conyers, Ranking Member Smith, and Members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
Since I appeared before this Committee almost six months ago, I have become even better acquainted with the talented and dedicated professionals at the Justice Department and with the work they do, and I have come to appreciate that much more deeply their service to our Nation.
I have now been Attorney General for slightly more than eight months. During that time, there have been moments of disagreement with Members of this Committee, as there always will be. There are policy initiatives that the Department supports that some of you vigorously oppose, and policy initiatives that some of you support that the Department opposes. There also are situations where the interests of the Executive Branch and the Legislature are in tension. This is not, as some people have suggested, evidence of a broken or flawed political system; it is part of the genius of the design of our Constitution, which embodies a robust separation of powers. Although these tensions will never disappear, there are many areas of agreement where we can work together on behalf of our common clients, the American people.
I would like to outline briefly two areas I will focus on during the six months remaining in this Administration.
First, with the first post-2001 transition looming, we must take every step to ensure that custody and responsibility for our Nation’s security is transferred smoothly to a new set of caretakers. That means putting national security measures on a sound institutional footing so that the next Attorney General and the new Administration have in place what they need to continue to assure the nation’s safety.
Two weeks ago, Congress took a vital step in passing the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, bipartisan legislation that will give our intelligence professionals critical long-term authorities to monitor foreign intelligence targets located overseas. Earlier this week, I called upon Congress to take another step by passing legislation to address the questions about detainees unresolved by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Boumediene v. Bush. Congress and the Executive Branch are in a better position than the courts to create practical procedures and rules to govern the habeas corpus hearings required by the Supreme Court, procedures and rules that would both give the detainees what process they are due and accommodate the grave national security concerns involved. In my speech earlier this week, I outlined six principles that should guide such legislation, and I look forward to working with you and your colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of Congress to address these important issues promptly.
Second, as everyone knows, the election season is upon us. Although state and local governments have primary responsibility for administering elections, the Justice Department must make every effort to help assure that the elections run as smoothly as possible – and, equally important, that the American people have confidence in our electoral process.
The Department will maintain a significant presence throughout the election season through both outreach and monitoring. We will work closely with civil rights groups and state and local elections officials to identify and solve problems. We will publicize telephone numbers and websites through which people can bring potential issues to our attention. And, on Election Day, we will deploy hundreds of observers and monitors around the country.
These steps will supplement our ongoing efforts both to enforce laws, including the Voting Rights Act, designed to guarantee access of all Americans to the ballot and to enforce laws, including those prohibiting voter fraud and campaign finance abuse, intended to safeguard the integrity of the voting process. All these efforts are essential in ensuring that elections reflect the will of the people, and in maintaining the confidence of all Americans in our system of government.
In all of this, we will be driven by what the law and the facts require, and only by that. In fact, I have said many times, both to members of the public and to Department employees, that we must pursue all of our cases in that manner. I have also said many times that we must hire our career people without regard for improper political considerations. And I have acted, and will continue to act, to insure that my words are translated into reality.
I am well aware of the allegations that politics has played an inappropriate role at the Justice Department. Too many of those allegations were borne out in a recent report by the Department’s Offices of the Inspector General and Professional Responsibility on hiring for the Honors Program and for the Summer Law Intern Program.
Even before I became Attorney General last fall, however, the Justice Department had taken many significant steps to remedy the problems that existed. I have since taken several additional steps, and we will continue to take any and all steps that are warranted. It is absolutely crucial that the American people have complete confidence in the propriety of what we do, and I will work to make certain they can have such confidence.
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I look forward to your questions.