Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri Delivers Remarks Announcing Four Russia-Affiliated Military Personnel Charged with War Crimes in Connection with Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine
Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley, and distinguished members of the Committee: I appreciate this opportunity to provide an overview of the Justice Department’s recent achievements, and the accomplishments that my colleagues – the 116,000 dedicated men and women who serve in offices around the world – have made possible. I look forward to working with you to take our critical efforts to a new level.
But before we begin this discussion, I must acknowledge the debt our nation owes to three Correctional Workers – employed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons – who, over the last week and a half, have made the ultimate sacrifice: Officer Eric Williams, Officer Gregory Vineski, and Lieutenant Osvaldo Albarati. As Attorney General, and as the brother of a retired police officer, I am determined to ensure that those responsible for the acts that led to their deaths are brought to justice. And my colleagues and I are committed to honoring the service of these and all other fallen officers by doing everything in our power to keep the women and men in law enforcement safe – and to continue the work that became the cause of their lives.
In this regard, I’m proud to report that the Department has made tremendous progress in combating violent crime, battling financial fraud, upholding the civil rights of all, safeguarding the most vulnerable members of society, and protecting the American people from terrorism and other national security threats. Particularly since last December’s horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the urgency of our public safety efforts has come into sharp focus. Earlier this year, I joined Vice President Biden and a number of my fellow Cabinet members to develop common-sense recommendations to reduce gun violence, keep deadly weapons out of the hands of those prohibited from having them, and make our neighborhoods and schools more secure. In January, President Obama announced a comprehensive plan that includes a series of 23 executive actions that the Justice Department and other agencies are working to implement, and a range of common-sense legislative proposals.
This morning, I’m pleased to join the President, the Vice President, and countless Americans in calling on Congress to enact legislation addressing gun violence – including measures to require universal background checks, impose tough penalties on gun traffickers, protect law enforcement officers by addressing armor-piercing ammunition, ban high-capacity magazines and military-style assault weapons, and eliminate misguided restrictions that require federal agents to allow the importation of dangerous weapons simply because of their age. I’m also pleased to echo the President’s call for the Senate to confirm Todd Jones as Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives – a critical Justice Department component that’s been without a Senate-confirmed leader for six years.
Of course, in addition to the Administration’s efforts to reduce gun violence, we remain focused on preventing gun-, gang-, and drug-fueled violence in all its forms. And we’re determined to combat domestic violence. In strengthening this work, I applaud Congress for passing a bipartisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act – a landmark law that has transformed the way we respond to domestic violence – and I’m pleased that this bill will finally close a loophole that left many Native American women without adequate protection. The Justice Department looks forward to implementing this historic legislation. And we’re committed to moving in a range of ways to become both smarter and tougher on crime, and to remain aggressive and fair in our enforcement of federal laws.
Thanks to countless Department employees and partners, we’ve achieved extraordinary results. And nowhere is this clearer than in our work to protect America’s national security. Since 2009, the Department has brought cases – and secured convictions – against numerous terrorists. We have identified and disrupted multiple plots by foreign terrorist groups as well as homegrown extremists. And we’ve worked to combat emerging national security threats, such as cyber intrusions and cyber attacks directed against our systems and infrastructure by nation states and non-state actors, including terrorist groups. Last summer, the Department created the National Security Cyber Specialists network to spearhead these efforts. The network is comprised of prosecutors and other cyber specialists across the country who will work closely with the FBI and other partners to investigate malicious cyber activity, seek any necessary cooperation, and, where appropriate, bring criminal prosecutions as part of our government-wide effort to deter and disrupt cyber threats to our national security.
Beyond this work, the Department has taken significant steps to ensure robust enforcement of antitrust laws, protect the environment, crack down on tax fraud schemes, and address financial and health care fraud crimes. In cooperation with the Department of Health and Human Services and others, over the last fiscal year alone, we secured a record $4.2 billion in recoveries related to health care fraud and abuse. As a result of our commitment to achieve justice on behalf of the victims of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in January we secured a guilty plea and a record $4 billion in criminal fines and penalties from BP, and in February, the court approved a settlement requiring Transocean to pay $1.4 billion in fines and penalties. On February 25, we commenced trial of our civil claims against BP and others. And through the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, we’re working closely with federal, state, and local authorities to take our fight against fraud targeting consumers, investors, and homeowners to new heights.
Over the last three fiscal years – thanks to Task Force leaders and our partners – we have filed nearly 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants – including more than 2,900 mortgage fraud defendants. Last month, the Department filed a civil suit against the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s, seeking at least $5 billion in damages for alleged conduct that goes to the heart of the recent economic crisis.
We’re also striving to boost the capacity of our law enforcement allies and provide access to the tools, training, and equipment they need to do their jobs as safely and effectively as possible. And we’re working with them to promote the highest standards of integrity across every agency, department, and sheriff’s office.
This commitment – to integrity and equal justice under law – has also driven the Department’s Civil Rights Division in its efforts to address bias, intimidation, and discrimination – from America’s housing and lending markets, to our schools, workplaces, border areas, and voting booths. Since 2009, the Division has filed more criminal civil rights cases than ever before – including record numbers of human trafficking and police misconduct cases. We’ve led efforts to implement the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act – which improved our ability to achieve justice on behalf of Americans who are targeted because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. We are fighting to preserve the principles of equality, opportunity, and justice that have always shaped our nation’s past – and must continue to determine our future.
In the days ahead, as Congress considers ways to make fair and effective changes to America’s immigration system, these same principles must guide efforts to strengthen our borders. These principles must continue to inform our actions, as we fairly adjudicate immigration cases, enforce existing laws, and hold accountable employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers or engage in illegal and discriminatory business practices that undermine competitiveness and the well-being of those who seek refuge on our shores.
This morning, my colleagues and I stand ready to work with leaders from both parties to help achieve lasting reform; to strengthen our ability to keep everyone in this country – especially our young people – safe; and to move forward in protecting the American people and achieving the priorities we share. But I must note that our ability to complete this work – and continue building upon the progress I’ve just outlined – will be severely hampered unless Congress adopts a balanced deficit reduction plan and ends the untenable reductions that last week set in motion a move to cut over $1.6 billion from the Department’s budget in just seven months’ time.
As we speak, these cuts are already having a significant negative impact not just on Department employees, but on programs that could directly impact the safety of Americans across the country. Important law enforcement and litigation programs are being disrupted. Our capacity – to respond to crimes, investigate wrongdoing, and hold criminals accountable – has been reduced. And, despite our best efforts to limit the impact of sequestration, unless Congress quickly passes a balanced deficit reduction plan, the effects of these cuts – on our entire justice system, and on the American people – may be profound.
I urge Congressional leaders to act swiftly to restore the funding that the Department needs to fulfill its critical mission and keep our citizens safe. And I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.