Thank you, Sally [Yates], for your kind words, for your friendship, and for your invaluable partnership. You are an extraordinary leader, a groundbreaking pioneer, and one of the most talented lawyers I have ever encountered. You have served our nation with incredible grace and dedication throughout your career. And from the Deputy Attorney General’s chair, you have been an incredible champion for justice. You have made our criminal justice system more effective and more fair, and you have been a vital partner to President Obama in the Clemency Initiative. Your personal involvement, and that of your team, has been extraordinary. You have sent the clarion message that individuals must take accountability for the reckless conduct of their corporations. And you have been tireless in reforming our prison system to improve the conditions of incarceration and to ensure that inmates receive a meaningful second chance at life outside of prison. There are literally thousands of people whose lives have been changed for the better because of you. I could not have asked for a better Deputy Attorney General to be by my side.
There are so many people I would like to thank today. I thank President Obama for entrusting me with the privilege and responsibility of leading the department that I love, and for exemplifying the kind of leadership he expects of all of those in his administration. Our nation is a better place because of his integrity, his profound thoughtfulness, and his love of our country. I thank my predecessor, Attorney General Eric Holder, for his friendship and support over many years, for the strength he showed in his historic tenure, and for the examples of leadership and courage that are second nature to him, and for always pushing this Department of Justice towards the ideal for which it is named.
And I thank all of you for being here. I see so many familiar faces. My dedicated colleagues, many of whom have returned home to the Department of Justice today. My dear friends from all corners of my life, many of whom traveled from far and near to be here – you are the friends of my heart, and I thank you for always being there for me. And of course, my beloved family. I would not be here without their unwavering love and support. And I would not be who I am without their inspiration. It is from my father’s example, my mother’s dignity and my grandfather’s courage that I learned that a life based on principle and integrity, though difficult, is really the only life worth living. That is a lesson I have tried to remember each day of my career. I thank my brother Leonzo, who is here today with his wife Nicole, for his steadfast support over every challenge I have ever had. And of course my wonderful husband Steve, the partner of my heart and my best friend. I could not have traveled this journey without you, nor would I have wanted to. My thanks to you are for always understanding my connection to this place and the good it can do, and always pushing me to make the most of my opportunity to serve the American people.
Today, as I mark the end of my time as your Attorney General, is a day of thanks and tremendous gratitude. But it has also been a time for me to look back. Even though it was almost 27 years ago, in March of 1990, it still seems like yesterday when I first walked into court and had the immeasurable honor of first saying, “My name is Loretta Lynch, and I represent the United States of America.” And if you had told me then the places that public service would take me, and that one day I would have the even greater honor of leading this wonderful department, I wouldn’t have believed you. But if you had told me then that the Department of Justice would be my professional home for the better part of my adult life, I know I would have believed that. And if you told me there was a way to turn around and do it all over again – I would. The opportunity to spend these golden years in the company of people who have found purpose in the difficult decisions of the law, and who strive to impact the real lives of real people, is an opportunity I am so fortunate befell me.
And I remember the moment that was clear to me. I was a young Assistant United States Attorney in Brooklyn, prosecuting one of many narcotics cases that required a cooperating witness. My witness in this particular case was an older man, who had smuggled heroin into the U.S. He was cooperating and I was preparing him to testify at trial. I was going over the cooperation agreement with him, both his obligations and the government’s. And when I explained that, as long as he was truthful, we would move to reduce his sentence, he literally fell to the floor and kissed my feet. My first thought was, “wow, that never happened on Wall Street.” But what that made clear to me was the profound impact the work we do has on lives, sometimes more than we comprehend. Now, over the course of my time here, both as a prosecutor and as a U.S. attorney and as Attorney General, I have spent my share of time with a lot of unhappy people. None of us are strangers to protests and complaints. But what stands out nonetheless is the hope and faith people still have in the law.
The law is still the most powerful tool we have to create a better future. Although far from perfect, it is the best instrument we have to forge lasting change. The law is not perfect, although it pushes us towards our better selves. It has not always been wielded on behalf of those who need its protections the most, but we have moved ever onward in our push for the truly equal protection of the law. And when I look at the work we have been able to do in eight short years, I am so proud of the stewardship you all have maintained and the things you have wrought.
And while I have no illusions that our work is finished, as I reflect on all of the remarkable work I have had the privilege of being a part of, I know that the faith I put in the Department of Justice – in all of you – 26 years ago was not misplaced. As I leave here, my belief still stands: that the Department of Justice will – and must – be a force for good in our nation. I leave here more confident than ever that no matter the turn of the electoral wheel, our work remains urgent and important. I leave here with the knowledge that your capable hands will continue the difficult stewardship of justice in the days to come. And I leave here with great pride in what we have accomplished together.
Together, we have shown that we that we can safeguard our nation in a way that is consistent with our Constitution. We have defended not only the American people, but the American values at the heart of our democracy. We did that.
Together, we have made our criminal justice system more efficient, more effective, and more fair. And we have focused our resources and our attention on still protecting our citizens and keeping narcotics off our streets. We did that.
Together, we wove a network of services and resources for those who have served their time in prison – a network that will give them a meaningful second chance in our society and a real alternative to recidivism, a chance to truly come home. We did that.
Together, we tackled the difficult work of repairing frayed trust between those who wear the badge and those who seek its protection, particularly in communities of color. We did that.
Together, we sent a clear message that we will not tolerate crimes that target Americans because of what they look like or how they worship. We did that.
Together, we extended our hands to the most vulnerable corners of our nation – those who need us the most, but who have the least ability to seek our assistance. We did that.
And together, we stood with our LGBT brothers and sisters against inequality and injustice. We ensured that they will never again be invisible to the cause of justice. We did that.
We have sought justice across this country and around the globe. It has been embodied in the cases we made, and also the people we have helped, the lives we have saved and the hope we have brought. We did that.
Right now, it may be difficult to appreciate the magnitude of your contributions. But when you finally have a moment to reflect on your time here, I hope you will remember that you each made a lasting difference. It mattered that you held your job. It mattered that you walked the historic halls of this grand building. It mattered that you were the one speaking, writing, and fighting on behalf of the American people. And it mattered that you chose to devote your considerable talents to public service. Never doubt that this country is a better place because of your contributions. The changes we look back on today would not have happened without each and every one of you. You did that – and you should be proud.
I could not be prouder of you. But to everything there is a season. And now my time has come to leave the chair of the Attorney General. I will not deny that this parting does bring sorrow. But I know that the cause of justice is greater than any one of us. Ours is work that we are blessed to own for the day, and then to pass on. I am proud that our day together at the Department of Justice has been one of hope and progress for our nation.
I have no doubt that hope will endure, and that progress will continue. And that is because I have had the privilege of working alongside you: of witnessing your skill, your tenacity, and your integrity. Whatever the next chapter holds for you – whether you are a career official staying here, or a political appointee who is moving on – you will all remain servants of the American people. You will all remain champions of progress. And you will all remain stewards of justice. That gives me great hope for our future. I have faith in you.
My colleagues, it has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime to serve as your colleague and to work for you as your Attorney General. Thank you for joining me on this incredible and humbling journey. You know I always say you never really leave the Department of Justice – you take it with you wherever you go. Know that all of you – and what we have achieved together - will always be with me in my heart. God bless you all.