Chairman [Bob] Goodlatte, Ranking Member [John] Conyers, and Members of the Committee: thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the recent achievements of the U.S. Department of Justice; to join you in advancing our ongoing priorities; and to stress, on behalf of my hardworking colleagues in Department offices around the world, our continued commitment to the cause of justice and the missions we share: securing our nation and protecting the American people.
This is, and will always be, our top priority. And over the past year, the Department has done important work in this regard – strengthening our ability to safeguard America’s national security, to disrupt potential terrorist plots, and to ensure that those who attempt to harm our nation, its vital interests, or its people can be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.
Last month, the Department achieved a major milestone when we secured the conviction of Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, the son-in-law of Usama bin Laden and a senior member of al Qaeda, on terrorism-related charges. This verdict has proven that proceedings such as these can safely occur in the city I am proud to call my hometown, as in other locations across our great nation. We never doubted the ability of our Article III court system to administer justice swiftly in this case, as it has in hundreds of other cases involving terrorism defendants. And it would be a good thing for the country if this case has the result of putting that political debate to rest.
Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify key portions of its report into past interrogations practices. I agree that as much of the report as possible should be made public, of course allowing for redactions necessary to protect national security. So I was pleased the Committee voted to send portions of the report forward for declassification. Having prohibited these practices upon taking office, the President believes that bringing this program into the light will help the American people understand what happened in the past and can help guide us as we move forward, so that no Administration contemplates such a program in the future.
Beyond our national security work, the Department will continue to build on the progress we’ve made in confronting a range of threats and challenges. The full resources of the Department and the FBI have been made available to help conduct a thorough investigation into last week’s horrific mass shooting at Fort Hood. And going forward, my colleagues and I will do everything possible to achieve justice for our brave men and women in uniform – and prevent these far-too-common tragedies from happening again.
More than ever before, the Department’s law enforcement work today must contend with new and emerging technology, including virtual currencies such as Bitcoin. Virtual currencies can pose challenges for law enforcement given the appeal they have among those seeking to conceal illegal activity. This potential must be closely considered. We are working with our financial regulatory partners to account for this emerging technology. Those who favor virtual currencies solely for their ability to help mask drug trafficking or other illicit conduct should think twice; the Department is committed to innovating alongside this new technology in order to ensure our investigations are not impeded by any improvement in criminals’ ability to move funds anonymously. As virtual currency systems develop, it will be imperative to law enforcement interests that those systems comply with applicable anti-money laundering statutes and know-your-customer controls.
Across the board, the Department’s comprehensive efforts reflect our commitment to integrity and equal justice – in every case and circumstance. And nowhere is this commitment stronger than in our work to strengthen America’s federal criminal justice system. Through the Smart on Crime initiative I announced last August, my colleagues and I are taking action on a number of evidence-based reforms – including modifications to the Department’s charging policies with regard to mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent, low-level drug crimes. This commonsense change will ensure that the toughest penalties are reserved for the most dangerous or violent drug traffickers. And I’m pleased to note that Members of this Committee have shown tremendous leadership in the effort to codify this approach into law.
I’ve been proud to join many of you in supporting the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act – introduced by Representatives Scott and Labrador and cosponsored by Ranking Member Conyers – which would give judges more discretion in determining appropriate sentences for people convicted of certain federal drug crimes. And I pledge to keep working with leaders like you – and like Senator Rand Paul and others – to address the collateral consequences of certain convictions, including felony disenfranchisement policies that permanently deny formerly incarcerated people their right to vote.
We will never be able to simply arrest and incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation. That’s why we need to be both tough and smart in our fight against crime and the conditions and behaviors that breed it. And this struggle must extend beyond our fight to combat gun-, gang-, and drug-fueled violence – to include civil rights violations and financial and health care fraud crimes that harm people and endanger the livelihoods of hardworking Americans from coast to coast.
Last November, the Justice Department secured a major victory in this struggle when we obtained a $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase & Co. – the largest settlement with a single entity in American history – to resolve federal and state civil claims related to the company’s mortgage securitization process. As part of our ongoing efforts to hold accountable those whose conduct contributed to the mortgage crisis, the Department also filed a lawsuit against the ratings firm S&P. And with the $1.2 billion agreement we reached with Toyota last month – the largest criminal penalty ever imposed on an automotive company – we’re making good on our determination to protect consumers and address fraud in all its forms.
Moving forward, my colleagues and I will continue to build upon these and other important efforts. And we’ll keep working alongside Members of Congress, including Ranking Member Conyers, Representative Sensenbrenner, and Representative Lewis, to address the void that has been left by last year’s Supreme Court decision invalidating one of the Voting Rights Act’s core provisions – so we can help protect that most basic right of American citizenship.
I thank you, once again, for the chance to discuss these and other priorities with you today – and for your continued support of the Justice Department’s critical efforts. I look forward to working closely with you to build upon the public safety and law enforcement accomplishments my colleagues have made possible in recent years. And I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.