Good Morning, Chairman Leahy, Senator Specter, and Members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
Since I appeared before this Committee six months ago, I have become even better acquainted with the talented and dedicated professionals at the Justice Department and with the work they do, and I have come to appreciate that much more deeply their service to our Nation.
I have now been Attorney General for eight months, and there is slightly less than seven months remaining in this Administration. I would like to outline briefly two areas I will focus on during that time.
First, as everyone knows, the election season is upon us. Although state and local governments have primary responsibility for administering elections, the Department must make every effort to help assure that the elections run as smoothly as possible – and, equally important, that the American people have confidence in our electoral process.
The Department will maintain a significant presence throughout the election season through both outreach and monitoring. We will work closely with civil rights groups and state and local elections officials to identify and solve problems. We will publicize telephone numbers and websites through which people can bring potential issues to our attention. And, on Election Day, we will deploy hundreds of observers and monitors around the country.
These steps will supplement our ongoing enforcement efforts. Using the Voting Rights Act and other laws, the Department has done, and will continue to do, its part to guarantee access of all Americans to the ballot. The Department will also continue its efforts to safeguard the integrity of elections by combating campaign finance abuse and voter fraud. All these efforts are essential in ensuring that elections reflect the will of the people, and in maintaining the confidence of all Americans in our system of government.
In all of this, we will be driven by what the law and the facts require, and only by that. Earlier this year, I issued a memorandum to remind all Justice Department employees of policies regarding election year sensitivities. The message of that memorandum, which I reiterated in a speech to our lawyers and agents involved in election cases last week, was simple: politics must play no role in our efforts.
Second, once the November elections are over, there will be the vitally important task of making an orderly and safe transition to a new Administration. As part of that transition, we will take every step to transfer smoothly custody and responsibility for our Nation’s security to a new set of caretakers. We must ensure that all of our country’s security measures are attuned to the increased risk we face during this time of transition, and that we respond and adjust appropriately.
It is also important that we do everything we can to give our national security professionals, who will be confronting the Al Qaeda threat well after this Administration is over, the tools they need to keep us safe. It is my sincere hope that the Senate will take a vital step today by passing the bipartisan FISA compromise that passed the House by a wide margin before the Fourth of July recess.
I am also working closely with the Director of the FBI to continue the transformation of the Bureau into a world-class intelligence agency. That goal involves developing new ways to recruit, train, and provide career paths for those who wish to devote their careers in the Bureau to intelligence collection and analysis. I am also reviewing the guidelines governing the FBI’s conduct of criminal and national security investigations, with the objective of harmonizing them in a way that gives the Bureau’s professionals clear and consistent rules for conducting investigations, while maintaining vital civil liberties protections.
Before I end, let me briefly address a topic that several of you raised with me in advance of this hearing – namely, allegations that have been made about politicization at the Justice Department. I take those allegations with the utmost seriousness. As I have said many times, to members of the public and to Department employees, it is crucial that we pursue our cases based solely on what the law and facts require, and that we hire our career people without regard for improper political considerations. It is equally crucial that the American people have complete confidence in the propriety of what we do. My promise to you is that I have done, and I will continue to do, what I can to ensure that politics is kept out of decisions about cases and out of decisions about career hiring at the Department of Justice.
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I look forward to your questions.