Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good morning, Chairman [Bob] Goodlatte, Ranking Member [John] Conyers and distinguished members of the Committee. I’m grateful for the opportunity to appear before you today to share some of the recent accomplishments of the U.S. Department of Justice; to discuss some of my top priorities as Attorney General; and to explore ways we can continue working together.
I want to begin by commenting on Friday’s reprehensible and heartbreaking attacks in Paris. The Department of Justice and the Obama Administration stand in solidarity with France, just as France has so often stood with us. As President Obama said, this is not just an attack on Paris or the people of France – it is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share. We are committed to doing everything within our power to assist our French law enforcement colleagues in bringing those responsible for this monstrous act of terror to justice. And as we go forward, our thoughts and prayers will be with the victims and their loved ones.
As this Committee well knows, our nation faces a host of serious, varied, and evolving challenges. Our highest priority must always be the security of our homeland, and we are acting aggressively to defuse threats as they emerge. We are working around the clock to uncover and disrupt plots that take aim at our people, our infrastructure and our way of life. We continue to investigate and apprehend those who seek to harm us – including upwards of 70 individuals charged since 2013 for conduct related to foreign-fighter activity and homegrown violent extremism. And we remain focused on the threat posed by domestic extremists.
At the same time, we are placing particular emphasis on countering security threats in cyberspace. We are perpetually on guard against individuals, organized groups, terrorists and state actors who might attempt to steal our data, endanger our economy, compromise our privacy and threaten our security. In recognition of the need for strong public-private partnerships, we created a new cybersecurity unit within our Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and announced a National Security Division outreach initiative to promote information sharing and resilience as part of the division’s national asset protection program. I’ve also been meeting personally with corporate executives and general counsels around the country to spread our message of cyber-awareness, encourage strategic collaboration and find new ways to protect American consumers.
Of course, to bring about the stronger nation we seek, we must also empower the communities within our borders. Across the country, brave police officers risk their lives every day to protect our neighborhoods and serve the residents of their jurisdictions and we are grateful for their dedication and their valor. But we have seen the devastating results of mistrust between law enforcement officers and the citizens we serve and experienced the consequences when decades of tension erupt into unrest. During the first 100 days of my tenure, I conducted a six-city community policing tour to engage with communities that have made progress in this area. In each city, I convened roundtable discussions that included law enforcement officers, public officials, civic leaders and young people, where participants shared some of the most effective ways that citizens and law enforcement could join forces to foster trust, to build respect and to spread mutual understanding. Restoring that essential trust between communities and law enforcement is one of my top priorities as Attorney General, and the department intends to do everything we can to foster those bonds and create safer and fairer communities across the country.
We are also paying special attention to vulnerable victims in our communities – particularly those caught in the clutches of human trafficking. In September, I announced that the department would be extending $44 million in new grant funding to help support research, bring more traffickers to justice and care for survivors. I want to thank our partners in Congress for their support – by tripling human-trafficking-related funding for our Office of Justice Programs in Fiscal Year 2015, Congress was instrumental in allowing us to increase our grant funding in this critical area. This October marked the fifteenth anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which is a fitting occasion to redouble our commitment to eradicating this pernicious practice.
Finally, I would like to address our efforts on criminal justice reform at the federal level. I commend the Committee members who have come together to help chart a new course on criminal justice that will make our society both stronger and more secure. It is a course built in part on the success of the Smart on Crime initiative that my predecessor, Attorney General Eric Holder, launched in 2013, which shifted our approach away from harsh mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenses and enabled us to focus on more significant violent defendants while better supporting rehabilitation and reentry programs that can reduce recidivism and promote public safety. But more must be done. Prison spending has increasingly displaced other critical public safety investments, and to make our sentencing laws more efficient, more effective and more just, congressional action is needed. Reform has been embraced by prosecutors, law enforcement, and policymakers of all stripes. And the Justice Department is eager to see meaningful sentencing reform enacted during this Congress.
Thank you for the chance to speak with you today and thank you for your ongoing support of the Justice Department’s efforts. I look forward to working closely with you to advance the objectives we share.
At this time, I am pleased to answer any questions.
The Attorney General’s written statement can be found here.