Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Specter, and Members of the Committee: I look forward to our conversation this morning about the important work of the Department of Justice.
The Department of Justice’s responsibilities are vast, but our top priority continues to be the prevention of terrorist attacks. At the Department of Justice, every day is September 12th.
I expect that much of our discussion today will focus on matters related to the war on terror. In particular, I expect that you will want to discuss the letter I sent to Chairman Leahy and Senator Specter yesterday, regarding the President’s decision not to reauthorize of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Court orders issued last week by a Judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will enable the government to conduct electronic surveillance – very specifically, surveillance into or out of the United States where there is probable cause to believe that one of the communicants is a member or agent of al Qaeda or an associated terrorist organization – subject to the approval of the FISA Court.
We believe that the court’s orders will allow the necessary speed and agility the government needs to protect our Nation from the terrorist threat. I look forward to discussing these matters.
I hope that we also can discuss other, non-terrorism matters. I am keenly aware of the responsibilities that I have – and that you have – that are not related to terrorism but nonetheless are of great importance to the American people.
First, I hope we can discuss a few things we can do together to keep American neighborhoods safe from the threat of violent crime, gangs and drugs. The vast majority of this work is done by state and local law enforcement agencies, but the Department of Justice plays an important and unique role.
The Department’s indictment last week of 13 members of the MS-13 street gang is an excellent example of the good work that is being done by a law enforcement community that works together at all levels – State, local and federal. Despite our increased focus on combating terrorism, investigating and prosecuting violent criminals remains a core function of DOJ.
Although the overall violent crime rate is down, near a 30-year low, we have some increase in certain types of crime in some areas of the country. This concerns me. To better understand these increases, Department officials have, over the last two months, visited 18 cities. In some of these cities, the violent crime rate had increased, while in others it had decreased. In each state, we met with State, local and federal law enforcement, as well as with community groups, to discuss the unique causes of, and responses to, crime in their city.
Although our analysis is not complete, it is clear that there is no one-size-fits-all response. Every city is different, and the appropriate response to crime in each city depends on its particular circumstances. In the coming months, we will make policy recommendations based on our research, the crime trends we identify, and the best practices that have been developed.
Second, I hope we can discuss an emerging problem – the abuse of prescription drugs purchased over the Internet – and the things we can do together to address this issue. Prescription drug abuse is now the second largest form of drug abuse in the United States and the only rising category of abuse among youth. Feeding this abuse is the proliferation of illicit websites that offer controlled substances for sale, requiring little more than a cursory online questionnaire and charging double the normal price. Make no mistake: these illicit websites are not about getting necessary medicine to those in need.
We must preserve legitimate access to medications over the Internet while preventing online drug dealers from using cyberspace as a haven for drug trafficking. I look forward to working with Congress to ensure that controlled substances are dispensed over the Internet only for legitimate medical purposes.
Similarly, I look forward to working with the Congress to protect our children from pedophiles and sexual predators. Protecting our kids is a top priority for me. It is a shame that the Internet – the greatest invention of our time – has provided pedophiles and child pornographers with new opportunities to harm our children. This is a new and evolving criminal law enforcement challenge that we are addressing aggressively.
Last year’s enactment of the Adam Walsh Act was historic, and I want to thank the Committee for its work on that important bill. It is clear to me every day, however, that more tools are needed.
I continue to hear from federal, state and local law enforcement that they need access to the information that will help us find online predators and child pornographers.
There are children to be rescued through the prosecution of these dangerous criminals. I ask you to work with me, this year on this critical issue of protecting those who cannot protect themselves.
I also hope that your desire to protect our Nation’s children from unthinkable sexual abuse will influence you to reform the mandatory nature of federal Sentencing Guidelines.
The advisory guidelines system we currently have – as a result of the Supreme Court’s Booker decision – can and must be improved. The Sentencing Commission has determined that, post-Booker, in almost 10 percent of all cases involving criminal sexual abuse of a minor, judges have given below-Guidelines sentences. Similarly, in over 20 percent of cases involving possession of child pornography, defendants are being sentenced below the Guidelines’ range.
Sentences should be fair, determinate and tough.
I call upon this body to enact legislation to restore the mandatory nature of the Guidelines to ensure that our Criminal Justice system is both fair and tough. One of the last issues I want to present to the Committee today is the urgent need to reform our immigration laws.
As the grandson of Mexican immigrants, and as a law enforcement official, border security and immigration reform are close to my heart and always on my mind. The President and I believe that we can take pride in being an open country and a nation of immigrants, while also protecting our country from those who seek to harm us.
I will conclude with one final, and I believe urgent request: please give the President’s judicial nominees an up or down vote.
Currently, there are 56 judicial vacancies – half of which have been designated as judicial emergencies.
During the 107th Congress, when Senator Hatch chaired this Committee, 73 federal judges nominated by President Clinton were confirmed. Fifteen of those were for the circuit court. I urge this Committee to treat President Bush’s nominees at last as fairly as President Clinton’s were treated.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.