Justice News

Opening Statement Of Attorney General Sessions Before the House Judiciary Committee
Washington, DC
United States
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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Remarks as prepared for delivery


On my first day in this job, I spoke about the “critical role we at the Department play in maintaining and strengthening the rule of law, which forms the foundation for our liberty, our safety, and our prosperity. In this rule of law, we are blessed beyond all nations. And at this Department, we must do all that we can to ensure that it is preserved and advanced. Such ideals transcend politics.”

 

From that day to today, we at the Department of Justice have worked to be faithful to that mission.

 

Let me share some things we have done: The President sent us an order to reduce crime and embrace that mission. The violent crime rate has risen, and the homicide rate has risen by more than 20 percent over the past two years.

 

After careful review, we have established a reinvigorated Project Safe Neighborhood program, as the foundational policy for public safety. It has been proven to get results. In its first seven years, PSN reduced violent crime overall by 4.1 percent, with case studies showing reductions in certain areas of up to 42 percent. We are also focusing on criminals with guns.

 

We have seen a 23 percent increase in gun prosecutions in the second quarter of this fiscal year. And I am honored to lead the superb men and women of the FBI, DEA, ATF, and US Marshals who work together every day with our state and local partners in this core crime fighting mission of the Department.

 

Last year, we saw a staggering 61 percent increase in the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty because of a felony, and on average, more than 150 officers were assaulted every single day. These numbers are unacceptable. Fortunately, we have a President who understands this.  President Trump directed us at the beginning to back our men and women in blue.

 

We are making it clear that we stand with our law enforcement partners 100 percent. They are the solution to crime, not the problem.  

 

We have also protected the rule of law in our own Department. We have prohibited so-called third party settlements that were being used to bankroll outside interest groups. 

 

We have settled civil cases regarding the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate and settled the cases of many groups whose tax-exempt status was significantly and wrongly delayed by the Internal Revenue Service. We have also provided legal counsel to this administration in favor of ending several other unlawful policies.

 

This includes President Trump’s order ending billions in funding for insurance companies that were not appropriated by Congress under the Affordable Care Act.

 

This action, which the House had filed a lawsuit to stop, put an end to one of the most dramatic erosions of the Congressional appropriations power in our history. We put an end to actions by the previous administration to circumvent Congress's duly passed immigration laws under the DACA policy. That policy gave individuals that were here illegally certificates of lawful status, work permits, and the right to participate in Social Security. We withdrew that unlawful policy, and now the issue is in the hands of Congress where it belongs.

 

We have filed briefs defending properly enacted state voter identification laws, lawful redistricting plans, religious liberty, and free speech on college campuses. In short, it is our mission to restore the American people’s confidence in the Department of Justice by defending the rule of law and enforcing the laws as you have passed them. And it is a mission we are honored to undertake.

 

In response to letters from this committee and others, I have directed senior federal prosecutors to make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a Special Counsel.

 

And, as you are also aware, the Department’s Inspector General has an active review of allegations that FBI policies and procedures were not followed last year in a number of these matters you have raised.

 

And we will make such decisions without regard to politics, ideology, or bias.

 

As many of you know, the Department has a long-standing policy not to confirm or deny the existence of investigations. This policy can be frustrating, especially when there is great public concern or interest about a particular matter.  But it enhances justice when we act under the law and with professional discipline.

 

This policy necessarily precludes any discussion on what cases I may be recused from because to do so would confirm existence of an underlying investigation. To the extent a matter comes to the attention of my office that may warrant consideration of recusal, I review the issue and consult with the appropriate Department ethics officials.

 

Lastly, I would like to address the false charges made about my previous testimony. My answers have never changed. I have always told the truth, and I have answered every question as I understood them and to the best of my recollection, as I will continue to do today.

 

I would like to address recent news reports regarding meetings during the campaign attended by George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, among others. Frankly, I had no recollection of this until I saw these news reports. 

 

I do now recall the March 2016 meeting at Trump Hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said during that meeting. After reading his account, and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government, or any other foreign government, for that matter. But I did not recall this event, which occurred 18 months before my testimony of a few weeks ago, and would gladly have reported it.

 

As for Mr. Page, while I do not challenge his recollection, I have no memory of his presence at a dinner at the Capitol Hill Club or any passing conversation he may have had with me as he left.

 

All of you have been in a campaign. But most of you have not participated in a presidential campaign. And none of you had a part in the Trump campaign. It was a brilliant campaign in many ways.  But it was a form of chaos every day from day one. We traveled all the time, sometimes to several places in one day.  Sleep was in short supply. 

 

And I was still a full-time Senator keeping a very full schedule during this time.

 

During this year, I have spent close to 20 hours testifying before Congress before today. 

 

I have been asked to remember details from a year ago, such as who I saw on what day, in what meeting, and who said what when.

 

In all of my testimony, I can only do my best to answer all of your questions as I understand them and to the best of my memory. But I will not accept and reject accusations that I have ever lied under oath. That is a lie.

 

Let me be clear: I have at all times conducted myself honorably and in a manner consistent with the high standards and responsibilities of the Office of Attorney General. As I said before, my story has never changed. I have always told the truth, and I have answered every question to the best of my recollection as I will continue to do today.

 

With that, I am happy to take your questions.

Updated November 14, 2017