REGULAR WEEKLY MEDIA BRIEFING
MR. HOLDER: Good morning.
Q Good morning.
Q Mr. Holder, a jury in Memphis yesterday ruled that there appeared to be evidence of a conspiracy in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. For about a year and a half now, we've been waiting for the results of a Justice Department review of the evidence in this assassination. Can you tell us anything about the review or when, if ever, we're going to see the end of it?
MR. HOLDER: The report is just about complete, and I would expect that what we would be sharing something publicly relatively soon.
Q What's the impact, if any, of this verdict on the work of the Justice Department review?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I mean, some of the information that was used in the courts at the trial is some of the information that we ourselves were looking at. And I guess, you know, we had people looking at, monitoring the trial, to see if there was any information that we thought would be appropriate for consideration in our determination.
Q Does the inquiry disagree with the verdict in Memphis?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I'll wait and -- well, I think we'll let the report speak for itself when it is --
Q To whom is the report -- will the report be addressed? Is it for the White House? Is it for the Congress?
MR. HOLDER: You know, I'm not quite sure. Our plan, though, is to share the report, to release it. So I'm not sure technically who it will be addressed to.
Q Mr. Holder, on the arrest of the -- or the detention of the Russian diplomat yesterday, there's been some suggestion that it was merely a kind of response, a sort of tit-for-tat thing. Can you shed any light on whether it was or whether it was the result of a long investigation?
MR. HOLDER: This is not a question of any kind of retaliation. These are separate matters. This is -- the matter here in Washington is something that had been under review for some time and is not in any way related to anything that happened anyplace else.
Q How long has this investigation been going on? And roughly how long might this bug have been planted on the seventh floor in the conference room in the State Department?
MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure I'd want to comment on that. State is going to hold a press conference with the FBI at, I guess, about 10:00, 10:15. And there is still -- there are still ongoing matters here, and I'm not sure I'd want to discuss that.
Q Did you say, though, at least that that it was the result of an FBI agent that this case broke?
MR. HOLDER: The FBI did a good job here working with their counterparts at the State Department. But yeah, the FBI was obviously -- very obviously involved in this matter.
Q Is it a fact that the way this -- the whole thing broke was somebody just saw this person out there consistently and kind of wondered what he was doing there?
MR. HOLDER: Well, there were a number of things that led to the discovery of this whole operation, I guess we could call it. And I think I'll let the folks at the State Department talk about it in greater detail.
Q How concerned are you about a serious security breach, given the fact that we're not just talking about anywhere in the State Department but we're talking about the seventh floor?
MR. HOLDER: Well --
Q (Off mike) -- I mean, it's --
MR. HOLDER: Yeah, I mean, I think this is obviously a serious matter. And as I said, I'd let any more detailed explanation of it to the folks at State --
Q One possible INS-related question: Will -- in a case when someone is declared persona non grata and expelled, is there any INS role there, or do the U.S. marshals escort them to the airport? How does that work?
MR. HOLDER: I frankly do not know. We can perhaps do some research on that and get an answer for you. I'm not sure exactly how they are handled.
Q Any idea when whatever it is will happen?
MR. HOLDER: Not precisely, but I know that he has 10 days in order to leave the country.
Q On the matter of these gun suits that HUD may be bringing, what's the Justice Department's position on that? And what's your personal feeling about that? The gun industry calls this a shakedown just to get some concessions out of them, and there's no real valid legal standing.
MR. HOLDER: No, I think that there's clearly a legitimate interest in looking at the possibility of having these public housing authorities file these suits and that's what HUD is engaged in. It's not a question of trying to shake anybody down. I mean, what we're trying to do is come up with a way in which we might engage the industry in some productive discussions to reach a result that we think is appropriate and, hopefully, they would feel was appropriate as well, but it's not an attempt to force anybody, coerce anybody. The lawsuits themselves, or the potential lawsuit, stands on its own legs.
Q Was the Justice Department involved in any way, directly or indirectly, in discussions leading up to this threat this week or in the ongoing discussions about the strategy here?
MR. HOLDER: Well, we obviously are involved in all kinds of conversations that happen within the administration with regard to the question of guns, and we've been over at the White House talking about, you know, how we're going to proceed in the next year, and among the things that we have been discussing are our negotiations with the gun industry.
Q But if these public housing projects file litigation, it wouldn't be a -- it wouldn't be an administration action. Would the Justice Department have any involvement under that scenario?
MR. HOLDER: No, I would not expect so. HUD would be involved with the public housing authorities and HUD has indicated, I guess, in testimony that some of their people have given before Congress that they would be providing assistance. And before HUD could participate, obviously, the White House would give them permission.
Q Should we conclude then that, based on your analysis so far, you don't see a federal role, a direct federal role, in this litigation?
MR. HOLDER: Not as yet. I mean, we want to focus on the attempts that we're trying to make to negotiate with the gun industry and, obviously, with pushing the legislation as well. And so that's really been the focus here in the Justice Department.
Q How can we say it's not a federal lawsuit if HUD brings the lawsuit through its public housing authorities, many of which are, you know, directly owned and controlled by HUD?
MR. HOLDER: Well, there aren't huge numbers of them that are owned or controlled by HUD, and to the extent that HUD sues on behalf of, for instance, a public housing authority that perhaps it is running, plus it's in receivership, I guess it could be characterized in that way as a federal lawsuit, but it's not totally clear the precise role that HUD might take.
Q Does HUD have independent litigation authority to do that? I mean, can they act as the lawyer for the government?
MR. HOLDER: Not necessarily as the lawyer for the government, but if HUD were bringing the suit on behalf of one of the agencies that perhaps it was running, HUD would have the ability to hire outside counsel, use its own lawyers, to pursue the matter.
Q Going back to the spy case for just a moment, speaking broadly, what's the message here, from your standpoint, from the Justice Department's standpoint, post-Cold War? You know, we have a different sort of alliance, we don't have the kind of adversarial relationship we once had with the Soviet Union. What's the broad message here to be gleaned from the events of the last 24 hours or, perhaps, the events of the last week?
MR. HOLDER: Well -- certainly our relationship has changed with the Russians, and I guess that's right. You know, our relationship is not as adversarial as it was, but yet we can't leave our guard down. I mean, there are nations all around the world that are, for a variety of reasons, trying to gain access to information from us, and we just can't let our guard down.
Q But how successful do you think that the -- (inaudible) -- was in getting sensitive and potentially dangerous information?
MR. HOLDER: I said I'll let the folks at State talk about that later on. But I think this is, obviously, a very serious breach that we have here.
Q Yes. One other question about this that some former intelligence people have been speculating about whether, once this gizmo was discovered, there was an attempt to use it for -- in other words, to kind of plant disinformation. Once it was discovered, did people come in and say scripted things into it, to mislead the folks listening to it?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I really wouldn't want to comment on that.
Q Back to the King inquiry, the assassination of Dr. King was one of the most traumatic events in this country --
MR. HOLDER: Sure.
Q -- in the century we are about to leave. Why did it take the department a year and a half just to review evidence in this case? I mean, was there something in particular that held it up?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I wouldn't characterize what we did as simply reviewing evidence. We, you know, put people on this matter and asked them to not only review evidence, but to conduct interviews. It wasn't just a question of paper shuffling or opening files. I mean, there were actual -- there were field matters, field investigation; a field investigation was done.
And it's taken a little longer, I think, than perhaps we might have wanted, but we wanted to make sure that whatever we put on paper was to the best of our abilities, the best work product we could get out.
Q When you say it's going to be released very soon, are we talking about weeks? Are we talking about months?
MR. HOLDER: Oh, I think weeks.
Q Do you have any doubt that it will lay to rest all the questions that have been raised about the assassination?
MR. HOLDER: I suspect not. You know, it is not a very broad- based look at all the possibilities. I mean, the investigation will -- and when you look at the report, you'll see what the nature of it was and what its scope was. But I suspect that given the verdict yesterday, this will renew interest in the King assassination and, I suspect, plant in the minds of many people doubts about, you know, some of those preliminary conclusions that were -- some of those conclusions that were reached earlier.
Q Will your report conflict with the jury's verdict?
MR. HOLDER: I think we'll have to just wait, and we'll let the report speak for itself.
Q Is there a possibility of another criminal trial in this matter?
MR. HOLDER: I am not --
Q Is there a possibility of a prosecution in this matter? We have just had a civil decision. Is there a possibility that, after your review is done, there may be another opening of a criminal trial?
MR. HOLDER: I would not want people to think that, on the basis of the work that we have done, that there is the likelihood of any kind of criminal trial?
Q So your report will not point to a new prosecution?
MR. HOLDER: As I said, I would not expect that there would be any criminal prosecution out of our report.
Q When James Earl Ray was arrested, he was in possession of a considerable amount of money. Does this review pin down where that money came from?
MR. HOLDER: Well, as I said, let's -- you know, I have talked about the report, and it will be out there, and I don't really want to get into the details at this point. It has really not been -- all the people in the department who need to look at it, have not checked the appropriate boxes and said, "It's fine for release." And until that's done, I think I wouldn't want to comment on the contents of the report.
Q Mr. Holder, has the family been kept advised as the department goes through the effort of doing the investigation, or will you basically wait till the report is finished to let them know the result of your investigations?
MR. HOLDER: We have been in touch with the King family during the course of this rather extended time. And we'll, I think, be talking to them, obviously, before the report is finally released.
Q Given the fact that the attorney representing the King family has been investigating this case on his own for 20 years, I think, has indicated that he believes that the FBI, the CIA, the military-industrial complex if you will, is intimately involved, or was, in the -- what he believes to be a conspiracy that killed Dr. King, were you at all surprised by the verdict yesterday?
MR. HOLDER: I am not going to really comment on the trial.
Q Well, any developments in the Egypt Air matter that you can shed light on? Can you tell us where things stand in the course of that ongoing investigation?
MR. HOLDER: I mean, the investigation is ongoing. I think we are pretty satisfied with the progress that we are making and the cooperation that we have been getting from our Egyptian counterparts. NTSB, FBI, the Egyptian officials, I think, are all working pretty well together.
Q (Inaudible) -- any decision on the lead agency?
MR. HOLDER: I have got to tell you that's not something that has been a big topic of conversation. You know, the investigation is proceeding. I think everybody is happy with the progress of the investigation, and it's not something that we have been discussing.
Q Is it a possibility then that this would stay with the NTSB?
MR. HOLDER: You know, we will -- if the time comes when we think there is a basis for us to move the lead agency perhaps to the FBI -- to the FBI, you know, we would do that. But as I said, we are pretty satisfied with the way the investigation is proceeding now.
Q Well, if -- there's an indication of possible criminal activity, doesn't the investigation have to move to the FBI? And if you were considering not doing that, does that mean that you think there's some other explanation other than criminal --
MR. HOLDER: I didn't say we were not considering that. I just said it's not something that we have been talking about. We have been really kind of focused on the fact of the investigation and trying to get the investigation done. If we get to a point where we think that, you know, under the appropriate regulations, statutes, that we have to transfer it to the FBI, we'd obviously do that.
Q Do you have a time line on that?
MR. HOLDER: I'm sorry --
Q Do you have a time line on the process you're going through on determining whether there is criminal intent?
MR. HOLDER: No, not really. I mean, the investigation is one that's ongoing. I mean, there are a whole variety of things that are going to be done. You know, wreckage is going to be brought up, so we'll be looking at all this information as it's developed.
Q Now, EgyptAir has said that they would not object to the FBI heading this investigation, but just what you mentioned about debris -- when is there going to -- when are they going to get back to work at the crash site and start bringing up debris and the remains of the people?
MR. HOLDER: I don't know precisely when the ship that does this stuff will get there, or if it's even there now, but that will be happening, I think, relatively soon.
Q The FBI says next week.
MR. HOLDER: Mm-hmm. (In agreement.)
Q At this point, does it really matter whether the FBI or the NTSB has the lead? We're going to go through the same motions anyway. What's the difference, at this point, who has the lead?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I mean, it matters in that if there -- I mean, as was indicated earlier -- if there is an indication that there was a criminal act that brought the plane down, then the FBI should appropriately be in the lead, and when we get to that point, we would move the investigation to the FBI -- or, put the FBI in the lead.
Q Mr. Holder, the Mexican government has officially requested -- I'm sorry, the U.S. government has officially requested the Mexican government do an investigation or report if the Judicial Police of Mexico was involved in the case of a DEA agent and FBI agent in Matamoros when they were surrounded by narcotic traffickers. What the Mexican government has responded to you?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I met with the ambassador and people from the Mexican government I guess a couple of days or so ago and expressed to them the concerns that we had about the DEA agents and the way in which they were treated and they assured us that they took the matter very seriously and would be looking into it.
Q But so far, they cannot give you any detail, if the Judicial Police was involved in the case?
MR. HOLDER: Well, as I said, it's something that I think they're looking at, and we'll be expecting to hear from them.
Q Can you update us on the situation in Juarez, in that general area, in terms of the ongoing effort to identify and locate bodies that may have been buried there?
MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure I'd say much more than what you've said. I mean, it's an ongoing matter. We have, I guess, a total of eight remains at this point, at two different sites. And the work continues. I don't think it's something that is going to be ended any time soon. I suspect that this will involve some prolonged activity on the sites.
Q There was a -- I guess the initial information passed to U.S. authorities was that it could -- there could be as many as 100 bodies there. Do you know if that number has been -- there's been any reassessment of that? Is that still a possibility, or based on the findings so far, is that now doubted?
MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure that we have a good sense of how many remains we will find there, but we're determined to work with our Mexican counterparts -- and we've gotten great cooperation from them -- in looking at all the places where we think there's a possibility that bodies were buried and, you know, get them out of the ground, do all the forensic things we can. And I'm not sure exactly what the number ultimately will be.
Q Has it been determined that two of the remains belong to U.S. informants?
MR. HOLDER: I wouldn't have any comment on that.
Q But the attorney general of Mexico is in town, and I think he is going to have meetings today here, in this building -- said yesterday that --
MR. HOLDER: He actually met with the attorney general yesterday, I believe.
Q He said that the FBI agents are going to leave Mexico in 10 days. That is true?
MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure about that. I don't -- I'm not sure what we'd be looking at in terms of their departures. And you know -- but I don't expect that we'd be totally pulling out of there any time soon.
Q Mr. Holder, where do we stand with the Mexican -- the Cuban boy in Florida? Has the INS communicated now to the father what he needs to do here?
MR. HOLDER: Yes. A letter was sent to the Cuban government -- I think it was last night, and the letter would then go to the father -- indicating that there are variety of things that the INS would be interested in hearing from him about the boy, among them being whether he has an ability to prove, in effect, he is the father of the child, what is the nature of his relationship, and expressing a desire on the part of the INS to interview him at the American interest section in Havana.
Q And in your looking at past cases, are there cases -- are there many cases like this that you know of in INS annals, where there's an unaccompanied minor that comes into the U.S., but a parent in the home country has objection? Has this happened very often?
MR. HOLDER: It is not something, I think, that has happened very often. It's not something that I've been exposed to since I've been deputy attorney general. I don't know, you know, if there is in the history of INS a similar kind of case. But this is something that's new for me, certainly.
Q And is it generally the practice that a parent's wishes are given great weight in these proceedings?
MR. HOLDER: Sure. Under international law, you know, the laws of the states, in this country, Cuban law as well, one of the main factors that has to be considered is the -- are the desires of a parent. But that's assuming that the parent has a good relationship with the child. There are a number of things that -- a number of preliminary determinations that have to be made. You have to make sure that the parent has not abandoned the child, has not in any way abused the child, that the return of the child to the parent would be in the best interests of the child. I mean, these are all the kinds of things that the INS will have to go through.
Q Will this likely lead to a final decision by an immigration judge, or would a final determination on his immigration status be done by someone in this building? Or what -- where is the final decision going to be made?
MR. HOLDER: I would expect that the final decision will be made within INS.
Q What -- are the regulations very clear here on what sort of balancing test the INS is supposed to go through? Is there a sort of "best interests of the child" thing in the regulation, or is it just like any case, where the INS looks at all the facts and makes its own best judgment without a lot of guidance from regulation?
MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure that there are a specific set of rules to deal with children, though I think clearly we have to -- you would want to look at what is in the best interests of the child. But included in the determination that would have to be made here are all the other normal things that the INS does when it's trying to determine how a person who is in our country in a refugee status, perhaps, or as an immigrant, would be handled. So all of those things will be considered by the INS.
Q Would there be any chance of putting this in the hands of the Florida state courts? Is it strictly an INS decision?
MR. HOLDER: I don't think we anticipate that it would go to the state courts at this time.
Q In your letter to the Cuban government -- (off mike) -- one of the things -- you're asking him whether he has the ability to prove in fact he is the father. What kind of proof would you need in order to establish that relationship?
MR. HOLDER: Well, we have sent to him -- in the letter, we listed out some possible things that he might bring to show that but also indicated that any proof that he had, in that regard, would be accepted by us; but I mean birth certificates obviously, baptismal records, family pictures, the testimony of neighbors or other relatives. There are any number of ways in which he might do that.
Q You also mentioned that it has to be established the parent's relationship with the child; in fact, whether he has abandoned the child. Do you have any information about that, whether this particular parent had any relationship with this child?
MR. HOLDER: No. When I said "abandoned," that was not any reference to the specifics of this case. That's just something that is generally -- those are the general questions asked in custody determinations. And one of the things we need to find out is what is -- what has been, I suppose, the nature of the relationship between this man and the child?
Q And he would bring this information to the U.S. mission in Havana?
MR. HOLDER: Yes, that's correct.
Q Do you know if any treaty obligations play a role here? There has been some suggestion of a Hague treaty that binds the United States if there is a case where a child is brought to the U.S. through an abduction, that we are obligated to return the child. Does that treaty play a role here in this case?
MR. HOLDER: Well -- there are treaties that deal with that situation. I am not sure, based on the evidence that we have so far, that we would say that that treaty necessarily applies. But that obviously would be one of the things that we would have to determine.
Q If I could go back to Egypt Air for a second? NTSB was obviously ready a couple of weeks ago to turn the case over to the FBI. Can you tell us what has changed since then so that that issue no longer is apparently one for active day-to-day discussion? Has any evidence changed? Or is this simply a response to diplomatic concerns so that this isn't really a pending -- I mean, a decision which is actively being considered day to day?
MR. HOLDER: Well, maybe I went a little too far there. I mean, I don't mean to say it's not being actively considered. I mean, as I said, we are mindful of the obligation that we have. And if we get to a point where we think that is something that has to be done, it would be.
But the focus really is on trying to determine what happened to that plane and why those people unfortunately died. And I think that is really the thing that really -- we have really concentrated on, trying to come up with those answers. And in doing that, I suspect we'll answer the question that you have posed, and that is whether or not this ought to be something that the NTSB or the FBI should have the lead on.
Q But why is that no longer such an urgent matter as it was several weeks ago, when the NTSB was ready to hand the case over?
MR. HOLDER: I am not sure it is any less urgent now than it was then. But we're not, we don't think, at a stage where that is something that we need to do, that is appropriate.
Q Are you suggesting that naming the FBI as the lead agency just might have to wait until wreckage has been recovered and examined?
MR. HOLDER: It's possible. Who knows exactly what it is that might make that decision -- make us make that decision? You know, we have to let the investigation proceed, and it might be something in the wreckage. You know, we might see something on the instrument panels. I don't know. I don't know exactly what might generate that ultimate decision.
Q Is the FBI actually doing investigation with authorities in Egypt, along the lines of talking to various crew members' families, neighbors, associates? Are those interviews actually going on?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I don't think I want to characterize exactly what kind of interviews are going on, but the FBI is working with their Egyptian counterparts and that investigation is taking place in places outside this country.
Q Are you finished? Are you satisfied with the results from the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder? Is that -- you've gleaned everything you need to glean out of that, so that any information that would lead to a criminal investigation would have to come from other sources --
MR. HOLDER: That, obviously -- we've spent a lot of time looking the data recorders and I -- you know, that's still a part of the ongoing investigation. You know, there are a variety of things -- you take the information you have on the data recorder, you come up with time lines and try to figure out exactly what was happening with the plane at the time something might have been said or you heard something in the cockpit going on. So, you know, you can't look at them in isolation. I mean, this is all part of a larger piece.
Q Has that analysis been completed?
MR. HOLDER: Analysis of --
Q The black box analysis?
MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure there's an awful lot more that needs to be done with regard to that, other than, again, as I said, you know, you've listened to it and you can figure out what's there, the translations and things of that nature, but again, you have to figure out and put it in context. And so I think that work continues.
Q Has there been a synchronizing of the two?
MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure. I'm not sure.
Q But the data has not been enough to trigger a criminal investigation yet?
MR. HOLDER: Not at this point.
Q (Off mike) -- come back to the Cuban child. What if the situation was reversed and an American child had been takenaway by his mother and stepfather to Cuba, to North Korea, or England -- wherever. Would we require -- what would be oursituation for dealing with that?
Would we require that the child come back and talk to, say, American counselors or somebody to find out what he really wants to do or to --
MR. HOLDER: Well, again, you know, I would expect if an American child were in England or something, that the English authorities would want to know if a request had been made by a parent remaining in the United States; would want to know what the nature of the relationship was between the custodial parent, the person in England, and the child; does the child -- does that parent have the right to take that child to England; what's the nature of the relationship between the child and the parent who remains in the United States.
Q Would we ask that the child be returned to American soil -- not necessarily to the father, but at least be returned to American soil and talk with American -- I don't know -- maybe children counselors or somebody, but again, not necessarily with the father himself, but at least that the child be returned to American soil?
MR. HOLDER: I mean, there are a variety of ways in which these things can be resolved, I mean, and I think what we always try to do is resolve these things as quickly as you can and in a way that's least disruptive to the life of the child. So you might do things in the United States. You might do things in England. You try to work together on these things.
Q Have you --
Q Well, may I -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Q Have you gotten a briefing from either the FBI or the U.S. attorney's office on what happened with this proposed sting of former mayor Barry?
MR. HOLDER: No, I have not received a briefing, but we have referred that matter to our Office of Professional Responsibility.
Q Mr. Holder, what can you tell us of the --
MR. HOLDER: Well, let me say this: I have not gotten an extensive briefing on that. I mean, I'm aware of where -- you know, what the nature of the allegations -- what the nature of the allegations is. And on that basis, we decided that it would be appropriate to have OPR do a more fulsome investigation.
Q Is that because there is a suggestion there might have been improper conduct?
MR. HOLDER: Yeah.
Q And what can you say about the Seattle riots, the perpetrators, the anarchists? Have you anything you can reveal about the investigation there and how it might affect other cities and other circumstances?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I mean, whenever we have a situation like that, there are always after-action reports, and I suspect there will be a lot that we'll glean from that report and a lot that other cities, other jurisdictions will learn as to how you prepare for these kinds of things, so that what happened, unfortunately, in Seattle might not be repeated.
Q May that -- was there any evidence of conspiracy to riot and commit or perpetrate anarchy?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I don't know. I mean, that's, you know, obviously a matter that's -- that people in Seattle are continuing to look at.
Q Do you have an agreement to talk to Mr. Samaranch about the Olympics?
MR. HOLDER: I don't know. We perhaps should get some more information on that. We'll get you some more information on that one.
Q May I ask you about two surveys recently about crime? One is the Eisenhower study looking at crime over a long period.
And they say that, yes, crime rates may have come down over recent years, but if you look at a much further time line, it's still a lot higher than it was 15 or 20 years ago. That's something you all have been saying.
Do you welcome this report? Is it a good perspective? What are your thoughts on it?
MR. HOLDER: Yeah -- I mean, I think it's consistent with a lot of what we have been saying. I mean, you know, it's interesting that in some regards, crime is lower than I guess whatever the base line was. I know in homicide, the rate is actually lower than it was for whatever the year was they picked. I remember looking at the report.
But I think it points up a continuing problem. Although we have made really substantial progress in these last seven, seven and a half years, and with, you know, pretty consistent declining crime rates and with property crimes and violent crime, there is still work that needs to be done.
And that's why I think it's really so important that the proposals that the president has made, about putting more police officers on the street -- you know, continuing the COPS Program -- getting sensible gun-control legislation passed, is still really important. We can't become complacent. We have made substantial progress, but the battle is one that continues. And if we become complacent, we could see a rise in the crime rates that we have seen decline over the last few years.
Q The other report is one, I guess, that's coming out this weekend on -- sort of a census of people in the nation's jails and prisons. That number continues to rise. Of course, there are state prisons and jails involved in this, as well. But as a general matter, is the fact that the nation's prison and jail population is growing, is that a good thing? Is it just showing that law enforcement is working? Is that the right thing to do?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I think there are a number of things we ought to draw from that. We should always be asking ourselves questions and be concerned about the fact that the populations in our nation's prisons continues to grow.
I think that's played a role in reducing the crime rate, getting people who commit crimes and who are likely to be recidivists, get them off the street. And yet I think we ought to be disturbed by the fact that the prison population continues to grow and especially disturbed by the increase in the minority population in prisons.
I think there's some really fundamental questions we as a nation need to ask ourselves; why do we see people committing crimes; look at the socioeconomic factors that I think are a part of this; and have to understand also that it's not simply incarcerating people as being the total answer to this problem. I mean, we have to deal with the underlying social conditions that tend to breed crime.
It's not a coincidence that you see the greatest amount of violent crime where you see the greatest amount of social dysfunction. And I think that's one of the reason's why you see, unfortunately, many black folks -- too many black people, too many Hispanics, too many people in depressed areas or from depressed areas, a part of the criminal justice system.
Q Mr. Holder, what is your main concern regarding the security of DEA agents working in Mexico? Are you still negotiating with the Mexican government to let them carry guns for their own protection? What is your main concerns over the security of your agents working in Mexico?
MR. HOLDER: Only that we want our people to be down there and working with their Mexican counterparts in a way that -- where they will be safe, where they'll be safe to do the kinds of things that the Mexican government wants them to do, that the American government and American people obviously want them to do. We want to feel secure up here in Washington that the people who work with us in the DEA and in the FBI can do the job in Mexico and do so in a way where they feel safe.
Q Do you expect a decision in the Wen Ho Lee case in the next couple of days?
MR. HOLDER: I can't comment on that.
STAFF: Thank you.
Copyright ©1999 by Federal News Service, Inc., 620 National Press Building, Washington, DC 20045 USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Internet Service, please email Jack Graeme at email@example.com or call (202)824-0520.