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Attorney General Holder Addresses Department Employees at Departure Ceremony


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as delivered

Thank you, thank you.  Please take your seats.

A couple of business items.  My portrait hangs on the fifth floor of the Justice Department.  And something that has not been mentioned but something that I really pressed Simmie Knox – the artist of the portrait – my kid’s names are hidden in the portrait.  And if you look at the button of my jacket and the wings of the eagle you’ll find the three of them.  And that’s the lore I want to have come out about this portrait.  Find the names of the Holder children – okay?

The other thing, Lee Loftus asked me to check to make sure that you all know that you’re on annual leave. But in my final act as Attorney General – screw it!

This has been a great six years.  Being at the Justice Department has been – I said the last six years but the reality is that I’ve been at this department since 1976, off and on.  I started as a line lawyer in the public integrity section in the Criminal Division and it’s going to be hard for me to walk away from the people who I love and the people who represent this institution that I love so much – but it is time.  It is time to make a transition.  Change is a good thing and I am confident in the work in which you have done that we have laid the foundation for even better things over the course of the next couple of years.

I think that as we look back at these past six years, what I want you all to understand is that you have done truly historic, historic and big things – no matter where you look.  From the basic stuff, this department was restored, it’s restored – it’s restored to what it always was and certainly was when I got here and what it must always be.  Free from politicization, focused on the mission and making sure that justice is done – without any kind of interference from political outsiders.

We have expressed faith in the greatest court system in the world and brought the toughest national security cases into that system and with unbelievable results.  The notion that we’re still having a debate about whether or not cases ought to be brought in the Article 3 system or in military tribunals is over.  It’s dead.  And that’s because, again, of the great work that the prosecutors in various districts have performed in putting together wonderful cases and then successfully trying those cases.

We have had an impact on the environment and people who – and companies that would have spoiled our environment.  Historic, historic wins in that regard as well.  You look at the financial recoveries that um – related to the mortgage crisis, and the huge amounts of money that we put – that we recovered.  And then I think what’s important – and Tony West is here, and I think he deserves some special thanks for that, for what was done with that money.  To try to get it to the people who suffered the most.  The thought was never to simply take that money and put it into the United States Treasury, but to come up with ways in which we could try to get people back into their homes, or to somehow reduce the debt-load that they were dealing with. 

Our Antitrust Division lives again – lives again, and has had a tremendous impact in our country, and in the positive things that they’ve done for the American consumer.  We announced – or we’ve heard, I guess, today that a merger that I think would have been extremely anti-competitive and would have not been in the best interests of the American consumer, has been abandoned.  That is because of the great work of the men and women in the Antitrust Division.

Our Tax Division, overseas accounts dealing with our allies in Europe, bringing money back and disallowing the practice that for too long had gone on where people had squirreled away, hidden money that they needed to actually pay taxes for and be held – be accountable for.  Historic stuff, that, as well.  

Indian Country – you think about the tough history that exists between the United States and our Native people, we have put on track, I think, the ability to right some really serious historical wrongs.  We’ve done, I think, a great deal, much work remains to be done.  But this Justice Department was committed to addressing those problems in as frank a way as is possible. 

Criminal Justice Reform – if you look at all the statistics, you’ll see the incarceration rate goes like this, and then goes up.  And then goes up in about 1974, late seventies, something like that. And we are a nation that incarcerates too many people for too long and for no good law enforcement reason.  It is time—it is time to change the approaches we have been using these past 30 - 40 years, and through the great work of the people of this department we are starting to reverse that trend.  Again, work remains to be done, but we are on our way. 

Civil Rights—the LGBT community is something that I tried to focus on.  I think that is the civil rights issue of our time.  This whole question of same sex marriage will be resolved by the court over, I guess, the next couple of months.  Hopefully that decision will go in a way that I think is consistent with who we say we are as a people, but I also think that is really just a sign; it’s an indication, one part of the fight for overall LGBT equality.  And I think that the work that you all have done in the regard is going to be an integral part of the legacy of this department. 

And then, you know, the thing that I think in some ways animates me, angers me, is this whole notion of protecting the right to vote.  We celebrated this year the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act.  We went to—I went to Selma to commemorate Bloody Sunday.  John Lewis was here earlier.  This nation fought a civil war, endured slavery by another name, dealt with legalized segregation.  A civil rights movement in the mid and early sixties transformed this nation.  And the notion that we would somehow go back and put in place things that make it difficult—more difficult for our fellow citizens to vote is simply inconsistent with all that’s good about this country, and something that I was bound and determined to fight.  And our Civil Rights Division has done a superb job in crafting law suits based on a Voting Rights Act that was wrongly gutted by the Supreme Court, and I suspect that we will see successes from those efforts that have—those cases that have been filed.  But that, that of all things, simply cannot be allowed to happen.  The right to vote must be protected.

I want to thank my family, my lovely wife, for the sacrifices they’ve made — over the years not only to allow me to be Attorney General but to be the Deputy Attorney General, to be U.S. Attorney here in Washington, D.C.  Honey, you’ve been the rock in the family.  And you’ve allowed me the opportunity to do the things that that really animated me and allowed me to work with all of these great people.

I also want to say something about the folks you see standing here—my detail.  These are people—men and women—who literally sacrifice their well-being in terms of their interactions with their families.  They travel with me.  They miss weekends.  They work long and hard hours. And they are prepared to do ultimate kinds of things.  And I could not do this job without them. Now they will not smile because they don’t do that.  I see Marcus is smiling a little bit there.  Bart’s also smiling.

And then I just want to thank all of you.  All of you.  You are what make this institution.  You know we have a great building and it is something that is historic in its nature.  But it is only kept great by the dedicated, the perseverance, the commitment that all of you show on a daily basis. And I hope that you all will understand that the job…there is not a routine job in the United States Department of Justice.  Given the great power that we are entrusted with, the responsibilities that we have, I don’t want you all to ever think that it’s just Tuesday and I’m going to get through the day.  That’s not who we are at the United States Department of Justice. It’s not who you all are.  And I think that has certainly been shown in the way in which you have conducted yourselves and the way in which you all have accomplished so much over the last six years.

I said earlier that when we celebrated Robert Kennedy’s 50th anniversary of his swearing-in in 2011, people said that that was the golden age for the United States Department of Justice. Well, I think that 50 years from now, 50 years from now and maybe even sooner than that, people are going to look back at the work that you all did and say that this was another golden age.  That’s how good you all are.  That’s how good you all are.  That’s how dedicated, committed and wonderful you all have been. With a focus on justice.  With a focus on helping those who cannot help themselves.  You have distinguished yourselves.

There’s a long line of excellence in the United States Department of Justice, but every now and again – at an appropriate time – a group comes along that is worthy of special recognition.  And you all are in fact one of those groups.  I am proud of you.  I am proud of you.  I am going to miss you.  I am going to miss this building.  I am going to miss this institution.  But more than anything I am going to miss you all.  This building is always going to be home, and you all will always be my family.  Wherever I am and whatever I am doing, I will be rooting for you from the sidelines. 

Now I want to do something here.  We have these bands that I’ve been wearing for the last whatever number of whatevers.  I think I can officially take this off now. I think we can officially say now that Eric Holder is free.  But it is not necessarily something that I want.  I don’t ever want to be free of this great institution.  I don’t want to ever be free of the relationships that I have forged with so many of you.  I don’t want to ever be free of the notion that I am a member of the United States Department of Justice.  This is something that has meant the world to me.  It has helped define me as an individual, as a lawyer and as a man.

And for that reason, although, I got rid of those bands.  I’m free in one sense that really not as consequential as the way in which I will never be free, nor want to be free of the United States Department of Justice, or free from all of you.

Thank you for your support over the past six years. I look forward to all that you going to do all with the great new leadership of a wonderful new Attorney General who will be sworn in on Monday, and I expect you will do great things over the course of these next two years, but beyond that. With those of you who are career employees, I expect that you will do great things as long as you are part of the Justice Department. There will be some of you who will be here 20 years from now, 30 years from now and I expect that your biographies will be littered with wonderful things.

But again, thank you all so much. I’m going to miss you and as I said in a previous speech, this is my third going away, but I promise that this is the last one. But I’ll end it this way, I love you all madly. Thank you.

Updated August 18, 2015