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Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at a Retirement Ceremony Honoring Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division John C. Keeney


United States

Thank you, Lanny. And thank you all for coming together this afternoon to celebrate the remarkable career and many contributions of one of our nation’s most dedicated, and most talented, public servants – John C. Keeney.

I am glad that Mr. Keeney’s family is with us, and I want to join Lanny, David, Gary, and Director Mueller in welcoming you here. You all are – and you always will be – part of the Department of Justice family.

I would also like to welcome former attorneys general , as well as the former deputy attorneys general, assistant attorneys general, and other distinguished guests.

Today, together, we not only pay tribute to Mr. Keeney’s extraordinary career. We also celebrate the values that, since joining the Justice Department in 1951, he has stood for – day after day – and inspired in those around him.

Mr. Keeney’s dedication to the Department and to his colleagues is – quite simply – unparalleled. He has been our steady conscience, our tireless advocate, and our institutional historian – all in one.

But Mr. Keeney’s service to our nation started even before he arrived at the Department. And the fact that he made it here in the first place is a testament to his courage and resilience. You see, sixty five years ago, the man sitting before us today was falling through the clouds over Nazi Germany, tugging frantically on his parachute after a hit to his B-17. At first, the chute wouldn't open.  But Mr. Keeney kept pulling, summoning the persistence that we’ve all seen and admire, until – finally – he felt the “jolt” that told him he was safe a little longer.

Mr. Keeney, we’re all grateful that you made it out of harm’s way that day, just as we’re all grateful you were rescued from the Nazi P.O.W. camp later that year. And I think we are also indebted to the G.I. Bill that enabled you to study the law and – on March 19, 1951 – to join the Department of Justice. Harry Truman was still President. J. Howard McGrath was Attorney General. And this building had not yet been named for Robert Kennedy. In fact, Robert Kennedy was still in law school.

Like today, it was an interesting – and challenging – time in the Department’s history. Mr. Keeney’s supervisors quickly recognized his talents and charged him with prosecuting some of the nation’s most elusive and dangerous criminals.  During his decades with the Department, Mr. Keeney successfully fought organized crime networks – nearly two decades before the RICO Act was even on the books.  He also led the Department’s charge against white-collar crime – when the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force was still half a century away.  By summoning the same persistence that once saved his life, Mr. Keeney helped to negotiate an international treaty that brought white-collar crime prosecution to a new level. And he did all of this – and so much more – with an unshakable sense of integrity, loyalty, and commitment to the rule of law and to the cause of justice.

Over the course of his career, Mr. Keeney became a friend and trusted advisor to many of my predecessors. Since I first joined the Department in 1976, I, too, have been the beneficiary of his expertise, his guidance, his kindness, and his quiet – but incredibly effective – leadership.

As those of you who’ve worked closely with Mr. Keeney know, he is quick to share credit. And he has never sought the spotlight. Yet, he has stood out – and not just because he is now the longest-serving federal prosecutor in the history of the United States. For decades, his talents and achievements have been well known and highly regarded across the Department, and in legal circles throughout – and far beyond – the country. And, yes, I’m well aware that some of the Department’s high-level visitors have been more eager to meet with him than with me.

When you think about all Mr. Keeney has helped to accomplish, it is no surprise that he has received his division’s and this Department's highest meritorious service awards. One of the Department’s buildings here in Washington is even named in his honor. And, earlier this year, it was a special privilege for me to join Mr. Keeney in marking the 63rd anniversary of his service to our country and to present him with the Department’s Medallion of Service.

But the truth is that no words – and no award – can do justice to the countless ways that Mr. Keeney has delivered justice.  And it is no exaggeration to say that his service in our Criminal Division has strengthened – and helped to define – the work of the entire Justice Department.

Decades ago, Mr. Keeney once told a reporter that, when he was searching for work after law school, he said, and I quote, he “really wanted to go to work for the Department of Justice. In my mind, Justice was the place to be.”

Today, I think it's safe to say that the Justice Department is still “the place to be.”  And that’s because of public servants like Jack Keeney, and the many colleagues and coworkers he’s inspired over the last six decades.

Mr. Keeney, as you begin your well-deserved retirement, I hope you realize how much your example has benefited us all. Even after you pack up Room 2109 – your office of nearly forty years – you will continue to be a role model, and you will always be a legend, to the lawyers, paralegals, support staff, and Attorneys General who have served our nation’s Department of Justice.

It has been a privilege to work alongside you, to learn from you, and – today – to celebrate your career and salute your extraordinary record of achievement. You have been to me a mentor, then an esteemed colleague, and finally a good friend. I will forever be in your debt.

“May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.”

On behalf of the Department of Justice – and the American people – that you have so ably and honorably served, we say thank you, and Godspeed, John Keeney.

Updated August 19, 2015