Press Conference


Thursday, February 18, 1999

9:30 a.m.


(9:30 a.m.)

MR. HOLDER: Good morning.

VOICES: Good morning.

QUESTION: Do you have an announcement for us this morning on any fronts?

MR. HOLDER: No, no prepared statements. I would be more than glad to respond to your questions, though.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, the French court has ruled that Ira Einhorn can be extradited to the U.S. Is there a next step? Can his lawyers appeal or ask for reconsideration? And is there any way the United States can work with French authorities to -- I do not know what the legal provision is here -- but to keep an eye on him so that he can't flee during this appeal process?

MR. HOLDER: Well, he certainly has the right, under the French system, to file an appeal. And that appeal will have to work its way through the French system. It's our hope that in the time that -- he is going to be released during the course of that appeal -- and it is our hope that steps will be taken to ensure that he does not flee.

QUESTION: What are the steps that could be taken? Is it a matter of French law, or what?

MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure. We are certainly concerned about that. And I would hope that the French would take the necessary steps to ensure that, at the conclusion of what we hope will be a successful appeal from our perspective, that he be brought back here to face trial.


MR. HOLDER: Thank you.


QUESTION: Mr. Holder, has your committee or task force come up with recommendations any recommendations about the Independent Counsel Act?

MR. HOLDER: No. It's still under review, although I would expect that we would make our recommendations to the Attorney General pretty quickly, hopefully in the next week to 10 days. We have hearings actually that are set. I think they begin in late February, in the House. So, time is of the essence there.

QUESTION: Are you going to be testifying before the House subcommittee soon on that?

MR. HOLDER: Yes. I think the tentative plans are I think I am testifying on the 25th or the 26th before Congressman Gekas' subcommittee. And I think the Attorney General is set to testify the middle of March, before Senator Thompson's committee.

QUESTION: Well, will you have the recommendation by the time you testify? Or will that have to wait until the A.G. testifies?

MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure. You know, we make a recommendation, I think, before I would testify. But obviously the Attorney General, in consultation with people in the administration, will have to decide what the administration's position would be on the bill.

QUESTION: But if there's no position by the time you testify, would you seek to have your testimony delayed until there is one? Otherwise what would you testify about?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I could talk about options, things that we are considering. It may be that I will just say the things that our committee has looked at, and maybe leave for the Attorney General the ultimate decision that will be made by the Justice Department.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, given the mood in Congress about the independent counsel system, do you think you might find yourself in the position of trying to save the Independent Counsel Act, as a proponent of the Independent Counsel Act?

MR. HOLDER: I think what I would be in a position to do would be share with whatever body I testify before some of the findings that our committee has made, some of the observations that we have made. I'm not sure I'd be in a position to make an ultimate conclusion. I think that probably is more appropriate for the Attorney General to do, unless she decides it's something that she wants me to do.

QUESTION: But you'd also, your task force, recommending that the Independent Counsel Act just be allowed to lapse, to die, and then --

MR. HOLDER: We've considered a number of options, that among them. Everything from having the Act repassed in its present form to simply letting it lapse. And we've considered everything in between. So, I think we have done a pretty good job.

QUESTION: Is it possible, Mr. Holder, that you'll simply present the options as your work product without a recommendation?

MR. HOLDER: Again, that's possible. I would want to talk to the Attorney General and get a sense from her as to what she wants me to do during my testimony. But that is a possibility, to just kind of lay out what we have considered.

QUESTION: Would it be your preference, though, to have a clear choice than to have one in mind when you go before the subcommittee?

MR. HOLDER: I'm not really sure.

QUESTION: Do you feel the Department maximizing its leverage?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I suspect that the maximum leverage we have is when Janet Reno speaks as opposed to Eric Holder. And I think as long as we have a position by the time she's testifying, we will maximize our leverage.

QUESTION: Just so I'm clear on that, it's your intention, then, that there be a position, that she'll be taking a position when she goes forward on the 17th of March?

MR. HOLDER: Yes, I would expect that at some point during these appearances, the Justice Department will express a view.

QUESTION: Have you ruled out any options, or are you still considering all of them, including, as you just said, letting it lapse?

MR. HOLDER: No, at this point, I do not think I can safely say that anything has been ruled out. There are personal preferences, I think, that people on the committee have certainly expressed. But we have not expressed to the Attorney General what the conclusion of the committee is. And she obviously has not made a decision yet.

QUESTION: Does the ABA's actions two weeks ago have any bearing on your discussions?

MR. HOLDER: Yes, that will certainly be something that we have taken into consideration. And we have tried to talk to people who have had experience with the Act, the people in the Public Integrity Section. We have tried to look at law review articles. We have tried to look at things that have been written in newspapers. Obviously, we've taken into account the position that the ABA has taken.

QUESTION: Has anybody expressed the opinion that the law should stay exactly the way it is?

MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure that I remember reading anything along those lines. I think most on that side have said that, if you're going to retain the Act, there ought to be some modifications made. I do not think I've read anything that says just leave the Act alone.

QUESTION: Are people in the division represented in your committee or have you solicited their views?


QUESTION: Which one?

MR. HOLDER: We've had people from the Public Integrity Section who actually sit on the committee, and then I've actually been speaking with Jim Robinson, as well.

QUESTION: Can I ask a related question? We realize you cannot give us any details of your investigation of Ken Starr's office, but is it clear that the same standards apply to Ken Starr and his staff prosecutors that would apply to any career prosecutor in the Justice Department?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I'm not so sure I'd say that that's clear. And I'm not sure I want to comment an awful lot on that. We want to respect the independence of the Independent Counsel's Office, and not do anything either through any action that we might take or any comments that I might make that might interfere with that independence.

An independent counsel is a fundamentally different creature than a United States Attorney, for instance. And although there are certain things that I think generally apply to prosecutors within the Federal system, independent counsels are different at the same time.

QUESTION: Well, I asked the question, because if it isn't clear that the same standards apply, then how can you -- what standards can you use to judge whether or not there has been misconduct? Or is part of your process now, in essence, to first think up what the standards should be for an independent counsel, and then decide whether they have been violated? How do you know where to start?

MR. HOLDER: Well, you start with the Act, which gives the Attorney General the power to remove an independent counsel for cause -- for good cause or just cause; I'm not exactly sure what the phrase is in the statute. And then, from there, I would think that although the standards might not be as clear as you might want them, I would expect that, in making any kind of determination along those lines, the Attorney General would apply the kinds of standards, or use those certainly as a guide -- standards that we normally use in making discipline decisions -- use those as guides, if nothing else. And I'm speaking there theoretically.

QUESTION: Well, if crime has gone down across the Nation, and we say that it's at the lowest level in a generation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs recently released a report I'm sure you're familiar with, saying that Native Americans are victims of crime at double the rate of the rest of the population. What are we doing wrong? Are we not putting enough money into law enforcement there? Are we not putting enough money on substance abuse treatment, to treat alcoholism? Why is there such a problem there?

MR. HOLDER: Those are very, very disturbing figures. I mean that means that we are going to have to examine the numbers and find out exactly why those statistics are as bad as they are. I'm not sure that at this point I can point to a precise reason. And that, in and of itself, I think is disturbing. I think we have to get a better handle on the problem and redouble our efforts there -- respecting the sovereignty of Native Americans, but working with them at the same time, to try to get a handle on that very vexing problem.

QUESTION: What can you say about the status of an investigation into racial profiling in New Jersey?

MR. HOLDER: We have had under review that matter -- well, a pattern and practice matter -- for some time now. I am not sure I am going to comment. It is a matter that is ongoing, and I'm not sure I want to comment much, much more than that.

QUESTION: Can you say how long it has been going on?

MR. HOLDER: In talking to folks at the Civil Rights Division, they say the matter has been under review for about two years now.

QUESTION: Is that the first racial profiling -- pattern and practice?

MR. HOLDER: No, we have a number of pattern and practice matters ongoing, and have done a number of them in the past.

QUESTION: Involving racial profiling?

MR. HOLDER: I wouldn't want to say that this is a racial profiling inquiry. I want to make clear that I'm not really going to discuss what the subject matter is of the investigation. But that has been something that has been looked at in the past in other places.

QUESTION: How many patterns and practices does the agency have now?

MR. HOLDER: I would maybe leave that to Myron to give you those statistics. I do not know exactly how many, but there are at least a few.

QUESTION: If you won't say it's racial profiling, will you say that the target is the New Jersey State Police, at least? Is the subject of the review the New Jersey State Police?

MR. HOLDER: That is the organization that is under review.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, getting back to Judge Starr, the Department made a decision in mid-January and communicated this decision to Judge Starr, that there would be an investigation of some of these allegations surrounding his investigation. Wouldn't it have been fairer to wait to mid-February, once the impeachment process was over, so that this wouldn't have hit the headlines, it wouldn't have intruded itself into the impeachment process? Why not wait another month, until the impeachment had played itself out?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I wouldn't really want to comment as to whether or not there was any kind of communication between the Department and the Office of the Independent Counsel.

QUESTION: What is the Department's role right now in the investigation in New York of the shooting of an immigrant who was shot 19 times, 41 shots fired? What's the Federal involvement there?

MR. HOLDER: The Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York are working with the District Attorney in the Bronx, and FBI agents are a part of the investigation, though I think that the lead role in that case is still the local authorities.

QUESTION: What has the Justice Department -- the subject here, of course, is the use of deadly force. As you know, the police are saying that they thought he was going for a gun. What has the Department done over the years to try to help police departments better train their officers in the use of deadly force? And does the Department have any view on how police departments around the country are responding? Is this problem getting worse or is it getting better?

MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure I can say if the problem is getting worse or getting better. But I know the FBI, certainly as part of the local training that it does, provides training to State and local police agencies in the use of deadly force. We certainly did that here in Washington, D.C., where we tried to work with the local police force in the use of deadly force -- the training down at the FBI Academy.

QUESTION: Is it correct to say that, in a case like this, that the Federal involvement is minimal, because you want to preserve the -- you don't want to cause a double-jeopardy problem -- you want to preserve the option of a Federal action after the State action?

MR. HOLDER: I wouldn't say our presence or our involvement is minimal. But I do not want to give the mistaken impression that this is something where the Federal authorities have displaced the local authorities. I think we are working with them. But, as I said, I think it's safe to say local authorities have the lead.

QUESTION: But is that the reason, because of double-jeopardy? You want to preserve the option of being able to take Federal action later?

MR. HOLDER: No. I think that we are satisfied that a sufficient amount of resources has been dedicated to the investigation by the local authorities. I do not think that the involvement of even an increased number of FBI agents or Federal prosecutors would present double-jeopardy problems.

QUESTION: Has there been any overtures from the New York police to do what Chief Ramsey did here, and bring you guys in?

MR. HOLDER: No, I'm not aware of any requests along those lines.

QUESTION: If I can try again on Starr. Senator Hatch told us that you had told him that you're trying to reach an accommodation with Starr's office, some sort of a way to deal with the question of how to investigate somebody who is supposed to be independent. He said that he recommended to you that you somehow find somebody from the outside, some independent person. It's been reported that Starr has also recommended to the Department that you somehow find some outside person. I do not know if it would be along the Shaheen model or what.

Is that something you're actively considering? And how would it work? Who would choose an outside person? How do you ensure it's an independent outside person?

MR. HOLDER: Well, again, I wouldn't want to comment on whether or not we are doing an investigation, where we stand in making that decision. But we would leave, I think, all of our options open as to who might do such an investigation if one were to be done.

QUESTION: At some point, aren't you in danger of forming a circular firing squad here, when you have investigators investigating the investigators, investigating the investigators? I mean, when does it end? Are we in an investigation hysteria in this country over the last four years?

MR. HOLDER: I wouldn't say we're in an investigation hysteria. We take the statute in its present form, look at allegations that we have received, and take what action we think is appropriate. We will have a chance in just a few weeks to talk about the statute and things that might be changed, and hopefully perfect any problems that might be identified with regard to the statute.

To be honest with you, I think it's a statute that has some problems. It needs some work, I think, at a minimum. But I think that's true of a lot of the statutes that we have to enforce. We have an opportunity with this one, however, at a minimum, to tinker with it.

QUESTION: And another issue Mr. Hatch said he brought up was his accusation that Mr. Lee's acting status over the Civil Rights Division is a violation of the vacancy terms, the 14-week cap on that. Was there an understanding reached on that issue, or did you attempt to respond to that specifically?

MR. HOLDER: Well, one never wants to disagree with the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, but I think in this instance I will. I think we've agreed to disagree on that. It's our view that Bill Lee was appointed before the passage of the bill. And his presence in that office is not, therefore, illegal. He was appointed under a statute and set of regulations that Justice Departments have used for any number of years and previous administrations have used for any number of years. And the bill, once passed, all of the provisions in the bill are prospective; none of them are retroactive.

QUESTION: What is accomplished, then, by renominating him in the near future, which apparently is the plan? Is there any real reason to do that?

MR. HOLDER: Well, that's something the White House will have to determine. I do not know if a decision has been made yet as to whether or not there will be a renomination sent up to the Senate.

QUESTION: But is it legally necessary?

MR. HOLDER: Under our interpretation of the bill, we don't believe that it is. He can sit in the office that he presently has legally.

QUESTION: Is there anything that would allow him to do that he can't do now?

MR. HOLDER: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Is there anything that that would allow him to do that he can't do now, as a practical matter?

MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure. But I do not think there is anything that, in his acting status, he is prevented from doing. But I am not sure about that. I would have to really look. Maybe Myron can get you a more detailed answer on that.

QUESTION: Let me ask you about the Fourth Circuit decision regarding Miranda. We understand that you have told Federal prosecutors and investigators to continue the procedure of reading Miranda rights and all of that. A couple of things: Can you just tell me what the implications would be if Miranda went away? What is your opinion?

MR. HOLDER: Well, first, we don't think that any court, other than the Supreme Court, can overrule the Supreme Court. And that is why we have taken the view of the decision that we have.

It seems to me that Miranda has become a part of the way in which those of us in law enforcement do business. It's a decision now that's, I guess, almost 35 years old, or so, but perhaps even more than, but at least 35 years old, or so. And it is a useful decision, I think, in a lot of ways. It helps to order the way in which law enforcement interacts with citizens, some of whom are clearly guilty, some of whom perhaps are not.

And it will ultimately be for the Supreme Court to decide whether or not the decision will have continued vitality.

QUESTION: I do not really understand the procedure. Will they invite you to give an opinion on the constitutionality or on their decision? What will happen in this matter?

MR. HOLDER: It is an interesting procedural posture. I would suppose that we would take the position there that we have taken with the Court of Appeals, which is that, regardless of what you think about the decision, only the Supreme Court can overrule that decision. And therefore, the district court, a court of appeals, even a court of appeals sitting en banc, does no have that power.

QUESTION: What would be your recommendation for what position the Supreme Court should adopt?

MR. HOLDER: That will be an interesting question, and not one that we have decided yet. We will have to sit down with the law enforcement agencies who are part of the Justice Department. I guess it would even go beyond that and talk to law enforcement agencies outside the Department, talk to the Solicitor General, obviously people in the Criminal Division, to see what position we would take before the Supreme Court. Because at that point, the issue I think would be joined.

QUESTION: So, it's possible that you would recommend that 3501 can supercede Miranda?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I'm not sure about that. No, the issue would be joined as to whether or not the Supreme Court -- let's assume it got to the Supreme Court -- whether or not the Supreme Court could overrule Miranda.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, your reaction, your opinion of the summit in Mexico, especially with regard to -- can you enumerate what measures, counterdrug measures you think will improve the relations between Mexico and the U.S.?

MR. HOLDER: As I understand it, I think the meeting actually went pretty well. I've not had a chance to speak to the Attorney General. She jetted back from Mexico and then jetted promptly off to South Africa. And I only had a chance to talk to her, I guess, for a couple of minutes while she was making a refueling stop -- her plane was making a refueling stop.

But all indications are that it was a pretty successful meeting. We have been talking to the Mexicans and dealing with them over, certainly in the time that I've been here, in dealing with counterdrug efforts. There was an initiative recently announced by the Mexican Government that I think is potentially going to be very, very useful in the fight against the movement of drugs into our country and the movement of drugs across Mexico.

QUESTION: Why do you think there will be any change for the better when arrests are down, confiscations are down? Why do you think there will be improvements coming from this conference?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I think there's going to be an increased emphasis on the use of technology, the creation of a national force that would have responsibility to do a number of things, perhaps ultimately counternarcotics work. I think the relationship is one that is building.

It has not been as successful, perhaps, as we would have wanted it to be, but I do not think that is from a lack of effort, a lack of concern on the part of our Mexican counterparts. And, as you know, numbers go up and down over the course of a year. I think that we have in place some pretty good measures. And hopefully next year the statistics will perhaps be a little better.

I do not think they are as bad as people have necessarily indicated, though I would hope that we will be a little more successful next year.

QUESTION: Has the Department made a recommendation to the President on the certification issue?

MR. HOLDER: No, we have not. Not as yet.

QUESTION: Speaking of recommendations, has the Department made its recommendation on the Pollard case?

MR. HOLDER: No, we have not submitted our views as yet. A memorandum is pretty close to final form, but has not yet been submitted to the Attorney General.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, the Civil Rights Division has sent a letter to a school in North Carolina, asking them a bunch of questions about their use of Indian mascots. Does this suggest now that -- the Education Department looked into a similar case in Massachusetts a couple of years ago, and concluded there was no civil rights problem with the use of mascots up there -- but does this suggest now that schools that have, at the very least, Indian mascots could be in trouble with the Civil Rights Division? Should we view this as a new challenge to the use of these mascots?

MR. HOLDER: No, I do not think so. As I understand the procedural posture, we got a letter from, I believe, a concerned parent, or we got a letter from down there. And we have simply asked some questions in response to that letter. I wouldn't say that at this point the letter that we sent or the request that we've made for more information is an indication of anything other than just an assessment we are trying to conduct, to see exactly what the situation is.

QUESTION: There are stories recently about the sale of DMV information from several states to a private database firm and questions about whether that was improper. I may have missed it, but is that a subject that is going to be of any interest to the Justice Department, either civilly or even perhaps criminally?

MR. HOLDER: I do not know that we have that under review in any part of the Department. And maybe Myron will be able to provide you with something about that later on. I do not know.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, last month, the Department concluded a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Supreme Court, Massachusetts Bar, aimed at revising a rule that would allow the compulsion of confidential information from attorneys brought before grand juries. Are any more such suits planned, and why is it important to the Department that these suits be undertaken?

MR. HOLDER: That, I think Myron will have to get you some more information on. I'm not as familiar with that as I think I would like to be before I respond to that.

QUESTION: What about the second part, the importance of these lawsuits to the Department?

MR. HOLDER: Well, again, I am not familiar with the underlying matter as I would like to be, before I would respond to that.

QUESTION: Is there anything more you can tell us about the investigation into the Salt Lake City Olympic bidding process? Has that investigation expanded? Can you tell us the areas you are looking at?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I wouldn't want to comment on a matter that's ongoing. We have a pretty substantial presence out there, in terms of lawyers and investigators. It is something that is actively being reviewed, and we are seeking to get information from a variety of sources, among them being the other investigations that are being done.

QUESTION: Is it being expanded in any way?

MR. HOLDER: No, I do not think I would say it's being expanded. But there is a pretty substantial presence out there. And the scope of the investigation is pretty wide.

QUESTION: Are more divisions, parts of the Justice Department, being brought into this at all? Can you give us an idea of what types of laws you're looking at, in terms of what's been violated?

MR. HOLDER: I do not think I would want to do that. That might tend to show what we are looking at. But Title 18 of the United States Code is kind of uppermost in people's minds, I would say.

QUESTION: There is a report today that there are four prosecutors and 15 FBI agents -- do those numbers sound about right to you -- in the Olympic investigation?

MR. HOLDER: I wouldn't want to get into any specific numbers, but that's not too far off.

QUESTION: Why is there a substantial presence?

MR. HOLDER: Well, this is a matter that involves something that obviously is of national interest, I think, and international interest. We are talking about something that matters to people in this Nation, generally, and to the people of Salt Lake City specifically, and I guess the people of the world, for that matter. And I think it is a matter that is worthy of Federal interest.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, a blast from the past on the Eric Rudolph front. Is the possibility that he is not in the North Carolina area is gaining a little more credibility or support?

MR. HOLDER: I would not want to talk about where we think he is or anything other than we are very actively looking for him, and hope to have him in custody.

QUESTION: By the way, did the United States have any role, any part at all, in the capture or extradition of Mr. Ocalan, the Kurdish terrorist -- nothing whatsoever?

MR. HOLDER: None of the Justice components or agencies had anything to do with that.

QUESTION: What was responded to attorneys for Mohammad al-Fayed concerning a subpoena for intelligence files on the late Princess of Wales? Can you tell us what that response is?

MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure I would want to respond to that at this point.

QUESTION: At some future point, could you tell us what's going on?

MR. HOLDER: A response might be appropriate at some future point; not right now, I do not think.

QUESTION: Within our lifetime?


MR. HOLDER: Well within your lifetimes, long, I hope they will be.


MR. HOLDER: For any number of reasons.

QUESTION: Just to follow that up -- I do not know anything about this -- are there intelligence files on Princess Diana?

MR. HOLDER: I would not want to comment on that? And don't take that as a yes or no, because I wouldn't want to comment on it.

QUESTION: Do you know the answer?

MR. HOLDER: Yes, I know.

VOICES: Thank you.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

(Whereupon, at 10:00 a.m., the press conference concluded.)