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Public Statements

Hearing of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies of the Senate Appropriations Committee - Testimony of Eric Holder

Hearing

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Good morning, Chairwoman Mikulski; Ranking Member Shelby; and distinguished members of the Subcommittee. I appreciate this opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the President's Fiscal Year 2014 Budget for the Department of Justice -- and to provide an overview of the Department's recent achievements and important ongoing work.

Thanks to my dedicated colleagues -- the nearly 116,000 employees serving in offices around the world -- in recent years, the Department has made tremendous progress in protecting the safety, and the sacred rights, of the American people. Nowhere is this clearer than in our work to ensure America's national security.

Since 2009, we've brought cases, secured convictions, and obtained appropriately robust sentences against scores of dangerous people on terrorism-related offenses -- by relying on our tried and tested federal Article III civilian court system. We have identified, investigated, and disrupted numerous potential plots by foreign terrorist organizations as well as homegrown extremists. Moving forward, we will continue to remain vigilant, to adapt to emerging threats, and to take these comprehensive efforts to a new level.

To this end, the President's budget request includes over $4 billion for vital national security programs -- and to respond to events like the horrific terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon. As we continue to investigate this matter, I want to assure you -- and the American people -- that my colleagues and I are determined to hold accountable, to the fullest extent of the law, those who bore responsibility for this heinous act -- and all who threaten our people or attempt to terrorize our cities.

While the Department of Justice must not waiver in its determination to protect our national security, we must be just as vigilant in our defense of the sacred rights and freedoms we are equally obligated to protect, including the freedom of the press. In order to ensure the appropriate balance in these efforts, at President Obama's direction, I have launched a review of existing Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters. Last week, I convened the first in a series of meetings -- with representatives of news organizations, government agencies, and other groups -- to discuss the need to strike this important balance, ensure robust First Amendment protections, and foster constructive dialogue. I appreciate the opportunity to engage members of the media and national security professionals in this effort to improve our guidelines, policies and processes -- and to renew the important conversation, that is as old as our Republic, about how to balance our security with our dearest civil liberties.

As part of that conversation, let me make several things clear. First, the Department's goal in investigating leak cases is to identify and prosecute government officials who jeopardize national security by violating their oaths, not to target members of the press or discourage them from carrying out their vital work. Second, the Department has not prosecuted, and as long as I'm Attorney General, will not prosecute any reporter for doing his or her job. With these guiding principles in mind, we are updating our internal guidelines to ensure that in every case the Department's actions are clear and consistent with our most sacred values.

This conversation is not static, and it seldom results in easy consensus. It is often difficult and emotionally charged. And it requires all parties to approach these delicate issues in good faith -- so that today's government leaders, journalists -- and concerned citizens, from all walks of life -- can come together, as our predecessors have done, to secure our freedoms; to ensure the safety of our citizens; and to update and refine key protections in a way that's commensurate with the challenges and technologies of a new century -- and consistent with our most treasured values.

In addition to this critical work, my colleagues and I remain committed to working with Members of Congress to secure the passage of common-sense measures for preventing and reducing gun violence. The President's budget request provides $395 million to support these efforts, and to allow us to keep our promise to the families and communities of those senselessly murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School and in countless other acts of gun violence throughout the nation.

We'll also continue to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform -- and strive to improve our broken immigration system in a way that's fair, that guarantees that all are playing by the same rules, and that requires responsibility from everyone -- including those who are here in an undocumented status and employers who would attempt to hire or exploit them. I'm encouraged that these basic principles are reflected in proposals that are currently under consideration by this Senate. And I look forward to working with leaders in both chambers of Congress to strengthen, pass, and implement responsible reform legislation.

In the meantime, the Justice Department will continue to move aggressively and appropriately to enforce existing immigration laws, to safeguard the most vulnerable members of society, to ensure the fairness and integrity of our financial markets, to protect the environment, and to invest in strategies for becoming both smarter and tougher on crime. We can be proud of the progress that the Department has made in each of these areas in recent years. And I'm encouraged to note that the President's budget request includes the resources we'll need to continue this important work -- including: an additional $25 million for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, to augment staffing and improve the efficiency of our immigration courts; $2.3 billion for state, local, and tribal assistance programs, with a focus on funding evidence-based programs; increases of $55 million to combat financial and mortgage fraud; an additional $93 million to address cyber security needs; and an increase of $7 million to expand on the historic achievements of the Civil Rights Division in addressing bias, intimidation, and discrimination -- from America's housing and lending markets, to our schools, workplaces, border areas, and voting booths.

I must note that our ability to continue this progress has been negatively impacted by sequestration, which cut over $1.6 billion from the Department's budget for the current fiscal year. Earlier this year, with the help of this Subcommittee, I provided $150 million to the Bureau of Prisons to mitigate the effects of these untenable reductions, and to avoid furloughing more than 3,500 correctional staff -- each day -- from federal prisons around the country. In April, again with your support and using similar authorities, I provided necessary funding to the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, the ATF, United States Attorneys, and other components to prevent furloughs and maintain adequate operations. I thank the Subcommittee for its full and immediate support of these actions. But I must stress that these and similar solutions will no longer be available to alleviate FY 2014 shortfalls due to Joint Committee reductions, should they be allowed to persist.

I am eager to work with this Subcommittee, and with the entire Congress, to prevent this from occurring -- and to secure the timely passage of the President's budget request, which provides a total of $27.6 billion for the Justice Department. This level of support will be essential in ensuring that my colleagues and I have the resources we need to fulfill our critical missions.

Thank you, once again, for the chance to discuss this work with you today. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.


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