Skip to main content

Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan’s Opening Statement at the White House Press Briefing


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Good afternoon. My name is John Cronan, and I am the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  Before serving in this role, I most recently supervised the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.  Prior to that, I served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, where I prosecuted violent criminals and national security defendants, including Usama Bin Laden’s son-in-law.

On the day Attorney General Jeff Sessions was sworn in, President Trump sent him executive orders to reduce crime in America and to target transnational organized crime.

As Acting Assistant Attorney General, I support the Attorney General in accomplishing this goal by directing the enforcement of all federal criminal laws with the exception of those specifically assigned to other Divisions.

This includes oversight of the nearly 700 prosecutors, including the Organized Crime and Gang Section, the Capital Case Section, the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, and the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training.

I had the opportunity just now to brief President Trump about one of the most significant threats to the public safety of our communities – MS-13 – and I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today about those threats.

MS-13 – or “Mara Salvatrucha” – has grown to more than 30,000 members worldwide, 10,000 of whom live right here in the United States, in 40 states and the District of Columbia. It is estimated that there are:

  • 2,000 members in Los Angeles;
  • Between 800 and 1,200 members in Dallas and Houston;
  • 600 to 1,000 members and associates on Long Island*;
  • Between 800 and 1,200 members in Boston; and
  • 3,000 members here in Washington, DC metro region.

As you know, MS-13 is probably the most violent and ruthless gang terrorizing our streets today.

Their motto is, “mata, viola, controla,” which means, “kill, rape, control.”

It is this motto and indiscriminate violence that MS-13 lives and rules by.

They commit rape, robbery, extortion, and murder often just for the sake of it.

They attack their victims with chains, bats, machetes, and firearms.

This is a photo of a shotgun and machete recovered from MS-13 members who were stopped by the police as they were on their way to murder a student at a high school in Woodbridge, Virginia.

They recruit children to be murderers, they gang rape young girls and sell them for sex.

I briefed the President on a few examples of MS-13’s brutality. These include:

  • A 15-year old Gaithersburg, Maryland girl named Damaris Reyes Rivas, who was stabbed 13 times with knives and a wooden stake. The girl’s killers filmed her murder so they could show gang leaders back in El Salvador. Damaris’s body was dumped next to railroad tracks under the same road – the Beltway – that many of us take to work each day;
  • The MS-13 members who murdered a fellow gang member they believed to be a snitch and another recruit who violated gang rules – and who MS-13 then buried in shallow graves in a Falls Church, Virginia park. These are the shallow graves used to bury those bodies – in a park just 10 miles from here; and
  • The Long Island victim who was lured into the woods of Central Islip by MS-13 members, and was beaten with sticks and a fire extinguisher. The gang ultimately cut his throat with a pocket knife and sadistically stuffed his body into a drainage pipe where it went undiscovered for months. These are the remains of the victim – stuffed in the drainage pipe.  

The Department of Justice is devoting resources to accomplishing the President’s directive of reducing violent crime and ensuring that our citizens are no longer held hostage by murderous savages like MS-13 members.

Attorney General Sessions has designated MS-13 a priority for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

The Department of Justice will be surging hundreds of new federal prosecutors to the field to specifically focus on violent crime and immigration.

The Department has enhanced our relationship with Northern Triangle countries – El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – to target MS-13.

This past summer, Attorney General Sessions visited El Salvador where he met with the El Salvadoran Attorney General, Douglas Melendez, to discuss joint efforts to dismantle MS-13 at its roots.  Soon after that meeting, about 700 gang members were charged in El Salvador.  

In total, our work with our Central American partners has thus far resulted in the arrests or charges of more than 4,000 suspected MS-13 members.

But because MS-13 is based and operates in El Salvador – and largely directs its murderous mission from prisons there – we must do more than enforce our domestic violent crime laws against gang members in the United States.

Our investigations have revealed that when we fail to enforce our immigration and human smuggling laws, transnational criminal organizations like MS-13 can simply replenish its jailed membership by sending more gang members across our borders.

The Justice Department, in coordination with our partners on the state and local level, will continue to prosecute scores of MS-13 gang members located in the United States.

And the Justice Department remains committed to enforcing our criminal immigration laws and identifying and targeting MS-13 smuggling networks, and undertaking all lawful measures to end this scourge to our communities.

Thank you.

*A previous version of this speech estimated the number of MS-13 members on Long Island at 2,000. That number was an estimate of the number of MS-13 members in the New York and New Jersey region. The current number range is provided by the FBI's NGIC and limited to the Long Island area.

Updated June 1, 2018