Great Hall - Department of Justice
August 15, 2005
I asked the Attorney General if we could keep the talking about me to a minimum today and I appreciate the way he has designed this program. I am sad about leaving the Department of Justice, but I want to use this as an opportunity - not to hear talk about me, which makes me uncomfortable - but to talk about the institution that I am leaving. Of course, that will make me sadder - to talk of what I am losing - but it is important to remind all of you what this place is and what it means in the life of this country.
I have been lucky enough to serve under two Attorneys General, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales. I want to thank both of them for that opportunity, and their kindness and friendship to me. I also want to thank them for their patience with my occasional chattiness and my jokes. Each had his own way of smiling politely when I tried to be funny, but smiling in such a way as to convey just the slightest impression that he was experiencing gas pain.
And, most of all, I'd like to thank President Bush for entrusting me with two of the best jobs in the country -- first in Manhattan and then here. It has been an honor and privilege to serve.
* * *
When I left McGuire Woods in 1996 to return to the Department, I could never have imagined what was in store for me. I got to work with a small group of amazing people in Richmond -- people committed to saving lives and changing that community -- and then a larger, but no less amazing group in New York - people recovering from indescribable trauma as the World Trade Center pile still burned within sight of the office - and, finally, with all of those people and many more, when I was lucky enough to become part of the leadership of the Department.
I talk all the time about how great the people of the Department of Justice are.
But who are they?
Or put better, Who are you?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most people don't really know. Or at least most people - even those who work here - don't fully know because they don't see the whole field that is the Department of Justice.
Actually, only the AG and I see the whole field.
Let me tell you what I see.You are people who do good in every corner of this country and around the world:
-- You are agents, prosecutors, and support people who volunteer to leave your families and go to Iraq and Afghanistan to help establish the rule of law.
-- You are prosecutors who will be up late tonight working on your summation to explain why a drug dealer, fraudster, or child pornographer is guilty.
- and you are paralegals up tonight as well to organize the exhibits to be shown to that jury because the idiot prosecutors keep mixing them up
You are civil lawyers and support people battling lavishly-funded private entities, struggling to find enough three-ring notebooks to put your stuff in:
- and laughing to yourself when you hear people speak of the "awesome resources of the federal government" as you eye the fancy supplies on the law firm's table and think about swiping some stuff to take back to your office
You are lawyers and investigators who are passionate about protecting the vulnerable, the innocent, the picked-on, the bullied, the harassed in our country.
You are special agents and deputy marshals, thousands of you, risking your lives to serve others:
- right now preparing to pound up stairs in the early morning hours tomorrow to execute a warrant and face who-knows-what behind that door
- right now preparing the lines of sight for an undercover set tonight, where you will buy drugs or guns from some wild-eyed 19-year-old high on crack or meth
- right now sitting outside a house watching and waiting for an armed fugitive murderer to show
- right now on a plane as part of a counter-terrorism squad, flying on short notice to a hot-spot halfway around the world
You are BOP employees, working with tens of thousands of inmates, trying to help those who can be helped, and to protect the innocent from those who have no interest in redemption.
You are agents, prosecutors, and support along the southern border, dealing every day with numbers and challenges that are a distant rumble to most people.
You are Justice employees in Indian Country, in embassies abroad, in labs, at schools, at crime scenes, and in a small hotel room interviewing a protected witness.
You are the thousands, and thousands of secretaries, document clerks, custodians, and support people who never get thanked enough, but who are the bedrock of this Department.
And, last, you are the people who did something I will never forget:
- You are the people who decided, in the prosecution of Zaccarias Moussaoui, to offer every 9/11 family the opportunity to be interviewed, to talk about their loved one, to talk about somebody who was not a number among 3,000, but a life, someone who was loved and loved back in return.
- You are the people who decided this had to be done, that the families were owed this, even though it was too big and too hard to do.
- You are the people who somehow did it anyway. You are the lawyers, agents, paralegals, and victim-witness coordinators who came from all over the country to sit in hotel rooms here, or in New York, or Boston, or New Jersey, and ask a simple question:
- What did you lose on September 11? Tell me about your husband,or wife or father or mother or son or daughter. Tell me what you lost.
- The result was hours of anguish, pain, tears, and even laughter.
- The result was also gratitude - and amazement - from these families, that their government had bothered to come to them, in private, with dignity, and with all the time needed, to ask what they had lost, and to listen to the answer.
- Those families, hundreds of whom had no trace of their loved one to bury, to pray over, to mourn, did not know their government could be like that.
- That may be because they didn't know this Department of Justice - like I know it.
Three hundred years ago, the great British preacher John Wesley captured the essence of this Department when he urged that people:
"Do all the good that you can
By all the means that you can
In all the ways that you can
In all the places you can
At all the times you can
To all the people you can
As long as ever you can."
That is who you are.
That is what I see from here.
* * *
I have had the opportunity to work on an extraordinary array of matters and issues as Deputy. Some of those matters were public; others were not but were visible within the Department. Others still were largely invisible: some because they were small and routine - although this job involves far too few of those; others - although of consequence almost beyond my imagination - were invisible because the subject matter demanded it.
In all that, I worked side by side with a small subset of this Department: remarkable people who, in matters great and small, private or public, in times of relative calm or times of crushing pressure, displayed traits of character that are the best of this institution. They were people who gave me rock-solid advice, people who made me laugh when crying was the only other option, people who came to my office, or my home, or called my cell-phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were people committed to getting it right - and to doing the right thing - whatever the price.
These people know who they are. Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to right, but they wouldn't have it any other way. I don't intend to name them, because they know I am speaking directly to them. But, ladies and gentlemen, I have seen, up close, in those people, a level of dedication and hard work that would astonish most people on the outside. I have seen loyalty - to me, in part, but most of all to this institution and to the law - that would shock people who are cynical about Washington.
In the process, I have learned that I have friends, in a world - in a town - where people say the word "friend" is just a political term of art. I learned that I have friends in the "I will put my life in your hands" sense of that word. I will never forget those people, although I can never repay them.
* * *
I only want to identify one small group by name, and that is Patrice and our wonderful kids, three of whom are here, two of whom are at camp.
I spoke of character, commitment, loyalty, and dedication to doing right. That describes my family, and my wife in particular - a person many of you have heard me refer to as the "chief domestic policy advisor," for good reason. Whatever I have been able to contribute has been thanks to the shaping of me that she has been doing since I was 19. And thanks to that shaping ability, we have five remarkable people for children. I am rich beyond belief.
* * *
I have spent much of my time as Deputy traveling around the country, visiting the people I like to call "my troops." That has been one of the best parts of my job. I have done that because I believe the Department of Justice is a field organization: we do great things here in Washington, but nearly everything we accomplish as an organization is done by the army in the field, which headquarters exists to support. I decided I couldn't help manage a deployed army without going to see them and touch them. As I made dozens and dozens of these visits to the troops, I would routinely share with them five expectations I have long had for people who work in this army.
First, I told them, I expect that you will work hard. You get to do good for a living and in the name of your country; if that doesn't motivate you to work hard, nothing will.
Second, I expect that you will have fun, something we don't talk about enough. Surely you are not doing this for the money, I told them, so you ought to look to have fun; and again, you get to represent the United States of America and do good for a living. If that's not fun, I don't know what is.
Third, I expect that you will keep a life, keep that breadth that allows you to make sound judgments in the exercise of the enormous power we are entrusted with and that offers an outlet for the great stress in this work. As part of that, I also expect that you will find the time to love the people in your lives called "loved ones."
Fourth, I expect that every human being in this organization, from the janitor to the Attorney General, will be treated with the exact same amount of human dignity and respect. They are all God's creatures, and from a distance, or THIS close, there is no difference.
Fifth, and last, I expect that you will appreciate and protect an amazing gift you have received as an employee of the Department of Justice. It is a gift you may not notice until the first time you stand up and identify yourself as an employee of the Department of Justice and say something - whether in a courtroom, a conference room, or a cocktail party - and find that total strangers believe what you say next.
- That gift - the gift that makes possible so much of the good we accomplish - is a reservoir of trust and credibility, a reservoir built for us, and filled for us, by those who went before - most of whom we never knew. They were people who made sacrifices and kept promises to build that reservoir of trust.
- Our obligation - as the recipients of that great gift - is to protect that reservoir, to pass it to those who follow, those who may never know us, as full as we got it.
- The problem with reservoirs is that it takes tremendous time and effort to fill them, but one hole in a dam can drain them. The protection of that reservoir requires vigilance, an unerring commitment to truth, and a recognition that the actions of one may affect the priceless gift that benefits all.
I have tried my absolute best - in matters big and small - to protect that reservoir and inspire others to protect it. I have tried to make a contribution in that way, but it doesn't make me worry about leaving. Because this institution - which is, at bottom, a collection of people with shared values, people in every corner of this country - was in great shape when I got here and will be in great shape when I'm gone. Why? Because my list of five expectations is nothing more than a description of what you already are; nothing more than a description of the culture of this Department.
* * *
I have been blessed to serve the Department of Justice in many jobs, and blessed to serve with remarkable people. Thank you for that opportunity. Thank you for making it fun and rewarding beyond belief.
Thank you most of all for all that good,
by all those means,
in all those ways,
in all those places,
in all those times,
for all those people.
Do that good as long as ever you can.
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