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Remarks By Attorney General Eric Holder to the National Association of Attorneys General


Location: Washington, DC


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PATRICK LYNCH (Rhode Island attorney general): Obviously, we have a guest that's entered the room here. He indicated when he was coming in, he only made one request that General Gansler not be here this afternoon. (Laughter.) But right there, all of us as friends and colleagues of Doug's knew we had a great attorney general now for the United States.

It's obviously my distinct honor to welcome the Honorable Eric Holder, U.S. attorney general. He was confirmed just a short time ago, just about his first month on the job. He's a former judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, a former U.S. attorney and a former U.S. deputy attorney general.

Our association, General, provided a letter of support, I know you'll recall, for your nomination, which I'll just quote a part of it, saying, "We know that Mr. Holder will work, as he did as deputy attorney general, to provide funding for state and local law enforcement so that we and our colleagues at the state and local level can be effective in our mission."

It's an honor to have you here with us, and we welcome you again. Thank you for joining us this afternoon, General.


ATTY GEN. HOLDER: Thanks for that kind introduction. It's really a tremendous honor to be back in front of so many friends here at NAAG. I kid about Doug. Where is he? There he is, my old buddy. We have worked together for a good number of years, and he is, I think, typical of the people in this organization, who are coming up with innovative ways in which we deal with the problems that for too long have bedeviled us as a nation. He's a good sport to take all the kidding that I always give him, but he knows that I'm one of his biggest supporters.

I've worked with NAAG for many, many years. As I said, I see many familiar faces in the room. We work together very closely on a whole variety of subjects, and I look forward to doing that in the coming years. You have my personal -- my very personal -- commitment to building a genuine and open partnership with my colleagues in the states.

And let me just start by thanking the excellent leadership of NAAG. Patrick Lynch, the AG of Rhode Island and the current president of NAAG; John Bruning, the AG of Nebraska, the president-elect of NAAG, another old buddy Tom Miller -- there's Tom, Miller -- who I worked with on many projects when I was the AG; Bill McCollum from Florida, who skewered me when he was the chairman of the House Judiciary Crimes Subcommittee. It was always interesting to go before him because he always like knew what he was talking about, you know, which isn't to say that all members of Congress didn't -- (laughter) -- but you know, but he really knew his stuff. Thurbert Baker, the AG of Georgia -- (inaudible) -- Dick Blumenthal from Connecticut, another old friend; of course, Doug; Lisa Madigan from Illinois, a great AG and another friend. And how could I forget my Attorney General Peter Nickles who, I guess, is not here. (Laughter.) Okay. All right. I guess he could forget me. But Peter is a good friend. We worked together at my law firm, and we've known each other also for a good number of years.

And what was mentioned about your support during my confirmation hearing, let me just say that was really appreciated. I felt that you all put your arms around me and really kind of carried me through what proved to be, at times, a pretty difficult process. And let me make sure that you all understand. I really, really appreciated the way in which you all stepped up. It was heartwarming, it was effective, and I'll never, ever forget.

I think you're going to like the team that we will have, hopefully soon in place. As it now stands, I'm the only person in the vast Justice Department building who was a confirmed presidential appointee. And as a result, everything that has to get signed by a confirmed presidential appointee goes through me. I have signed more Eric Holders, I think, in the past three weeks than I have in my lifetime. And so David Ogden, who will be the deputy attorney general, has had his confirmation hearing, has been voted out of committee, and I'm hoping that he will get a positive vote over the next couple of days. Tom Perrelli, who will be the associate attorney general I think is about two weeks or so behind him. But we hope we will have those people in place and our assistant attorneys general in place as well very soon.

It is, as I said before, very heartwarming to see so many people who I've worked with in the past, here. I think that familiarity will, I hope, carry us through the times in which we will disagree about things, which I suspect will not be very often. I hope you'll understand that to the extent that we do disagree it is on the basis of something the president made me do as opposed to something that I want to do. (Laughter.) Always blame that guy. But the reality is that we share the most important client of all, and that's the people of the United States, the people of your states. And there's no reason why we can't be open, honest and transparent with each other. And that is my pledge to you.

The Justice Department in this administration shares many of your most important priorities, and I think there will be a lot of work that we can work on together. The recently passed economic recovery act includes a robust expansion of grant programs for state and local law enforcement initiatives that I think will benefit all of your communities and benefit the nation as a whole.

I believe there's an awful lot that we can do to increase cooperation and coordination among state, federal and local law enforcement agencies, protecting consumers and the environment, enforcing antitrust laws and combating child predators, cyber crime and identity theft. I know all of these things are important to you, and I think we have to come up with ways in which we can work together.

This is not necessarily a competition. This should be cooperation. And I think in that regard, last week we announced the results of Operation Accelerator which was a 21-month effort that targeted the Sinaloa cartel, that led to the arrest of 750 individuals, the confiscation of more than 23 tons of narcotics. And that operation was a success only because of the cooperation between state and local law enforcement working together with those in the federal government. I think in the future we can do even more in this regard to fight the dangerous threat that these cartels pose to our communities throughout the country.

But let me address very quickly a few specific areas of interest to NAAG before I just answer any questions that you might have. First with regard to Byrne JAG Law Enforcement Grants, 51 of you wrote to Congress last month asking that Byrne JAG money be restored to the department's budget.

Thank you. I'm very pleased that the $2 billion in funding that's in the stimulus package has now become law. And I think that is in direct response to the requests that you made.

Those critical funds will be made available to you and others in law enforcement in the very near term. I know that many of you are facing layoffs with regard to critical law enforcement personnel, including prosecutors, and these funds will help you in that regard and also help fund additional personnel, monthly jurisdictional drug task forces, police training and crime victim assistance programs. We all know what tough economic times we're all facing, so this is, I think, a very tangible sign of the commitment of this administration to protecting our communities by ensuring that you all have these critical resources.

With regard to Internet child safety, I know that you are focusing at this meeting on Internet child safety, and I'm aware that NAAG and the states have done a lot over the past two years to make Internet safer for our children. This is particularly important to me. I have a 15-year old, a 13-year old and an 11-year old who spend all of their time on their computers. It's particularly timely, therefore, that the stimulus package contains $50 million for Internet Crimes Against Children Grants. These will help you and the rest of law enforcement do even more to keep our children safe and away from sex predators.

In addition, my department is committed to supporting the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force program which works out of your offices. The ICACs are, I think, a great model for federal, state and local cooperation.

With regard to cyber crime and ID theft, I understand that you have participated in OJP's National Institute of Justice cyber crime project. I was pleased to learn that NAAG also has a cyber crime project that provides training and technical assistance to investigate and to prosecute computer-based crime. I look forward to working with the state attorneys general on this issue as we further develop the best strategies to attack cyber crime and ID theft.

Federal preemption of state laws -- now, I know that NAAG's top issue for the federal government, as I've been told, is federal preemption of state laws. Further, I know that the guidelines and implementation of the Adam Walsh Act is an issue that the AGs have been very interested and involved in. My department is committed to working with the states to make the Adam Walsh Act requirements as flexible as we can.

Finally, with regard to the Executive Working Group, the EWG, let me just touch on something which I think is very personally important to me, and that is the EWG. As you all know, this was formed more than 30 years or so ago in an effort to increase cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies. The overriding purpose is to provide a forum for federal, state and local law enforcement to engage in open and candid discussions regarding areas of mutual concern. I'm pleased to announce that the EWG will be an active and important part of the Holder Justice Department and a key means of restoring the strong partnerships that existed and should exist between DOJ and our key allies in the state AGs and the district attorneys.

I expect that we can use this to talk about issues, to share information, to follow up. This isn't going to be just, I think, a place where we share ideas and then won't actually do something concrete. Let's talk about things, let's follow up. And I think that we should commit ourselves to meeting at least three to four times per year so that we can have this means by which we can share information and develop partnerships and come up with concrete programs for the people of this nation.

Let me just stop there, and I'll open myself up to any questions that anybody might have about any of these or any other subjects -- (extended pause) -- or not.

J.B. Van Hollen (Wisconsin attorney general): General, J.B. Van Hollen from Wisconsin. Wondering what if any plans you and the administration have with regards to changeover of United States attorneys and what kind of timing we can expect. Obviously, hard to move forward with new programming with current U.S. attorneys if we expect they're not going to be there.

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: Yeah. You know, every time I run into a senator, I keep telling her or him, send me some names. We talked to Greg Craig today. He's indicated that we're going to get 12 names or 12 candidates to consider. I guess candidates from 12 states, 12 districts to consider this afternoon. Frankly, I think the folks in the Senate have been a little slower than I anticipated. We want to try to get those names to the Justice Department as quickly as possible so that we can make determinations as quickly as we can, get them into and through vetting as fast as we can.

As you can understand, given what's happened in the recent past, the vetting process has now really been tightened up. And it takes quite a bit of time to get people through. So our hope is to get people in place as quickly as we can. We have made the determination that we are not going to replace wholesale all of the U.S. attorneys in the way that was done, I guess, in the Clinton administration. We're going to leave people in place until we have successors. And I think at this point we have about 50, I think, holdover U.S. attorneys. I think that's the correct number. We have acting U.S. attorneys in the other positions. But we're looking to replace these folks as quickly as we can, to put our own people in place as quickly as we can.

And at least two or three district's senators have asked and I've recommended, the president has agreed, that people will be holding over. Pat Fitzgerald, for instance, in Chicago will remain as the United States attorney there.

MARK SHURTLEFF (Utah attorney general): General Holder, Mark Shurtleff, Utah. Thank you for being here and congratulations. First, a follow up to this question. Is there a mechanism for us, since we have been working with many of these, cooperatively or not, to let you know of what our experience has been, as you go through this process, because we know we'd like to give you some information about that if that's possible?

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: Oh, absolutely, please. To the extent that you have information that you want to share about people who are in place, about experiences you've had with particular offices or your views about people who you know to be candidates, please feel free to share that information and just send it to me at the Justice Department. I really would encourage that. We're trying to make sure that the people we put in these positions are the best possible candidates. And to the extent that you have information that will help inform those decisions, please feel free to share it. I mean, obviously, you share it, I suppose, with, you know, your senators, congressmen making the decisions in your states. But if you will feel comfortable, I would really appreciate getting, you know, that kind of information.

MR. SHURTLEFF: Okay. Thank you. I'm the co-chair of the NAAG Civil Rights Committee, would love to work with you on reinvigorating the decades-old MOU we used to have on working with you on that. But the bug I want to put in your ear is we are embarked on an investigation into antitrust implications of the BCS. I know the president-elect made a few statements about that.

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: That's bigger than Guantanamo.

MR. SHURTLEFF: It's big, I know. (Laughter.) And I know some congressmen have written to the president and to you. We are going down that route, love to have your cooperation. We're together on that one. Thank you.

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: Oh, boy. Wait until the president hears that that was raised at this meeting. (Laughter.) I'm actually going to the White House after this for a National Security Council meeting. The attorney general now sits on that. If he were to hear that you had raised that question, that might be topic one or two on the -- it is a national security as far as he is concerned. (Laughter.)

But seriously, I mean, to the extent you want to work on that, no, that is, for a bunch of reasons, I think, something that is actually worthy of our examination.

WILLIAM H. SORRELL (Vermont attorney general): General, thank you for joining us again. General Suthers from Colorado and I are both Notre Dame graduates, so we don't look to the BCS issue as something that maybe should be the top priority. (Laughter.)

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: If they were any better they would, you know. (Laughter.) It's a cyclical thing.

I'm sure you're coming back. I know you're going to be good. It's just, you know, a (culture ?) way. I know what you mean. Yeah, smart move. Alienate the Notre Dame folks.

MR. SORRELL: Senator Leahy has already nominated Tris Coffin in Vermont. Take a hard look at him. He's a very good guy, very good lawyer. And just if I could ask you a question in the environmental protection arena. Coming from the president and out of the EPA, we've seen some marked apparent changes in federal policy on environmental protection. And I'm wondering if you've had the time yet to think from the DOJ perspective as to any sort of initiative shifts or enforcement efforts that would be priorities for your administration.

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: No. I'll be honest with you, I've not really focused, as yet, on ENRD and trying to figure out what it is we're going to be focusing on. But I really do think this is an opportunity for you all to help shape those priorities. Having been, in essence, a state prosecutor, being the U.S. attorney here in D.C., as Doug knows, I understand that, you know, all the wisdom in the world does not reside at 9th and Penn or 16th and Pennsylvania Avenue. And to the extent that you have ideas, thoughts about things that we need to be focused on with regard to environmental issues or other issues, again, pick up the phone, you know, drop me a note. I don't have an e-mail anymore. But you know, somehow get this stuff to me.

This would be, you know -- I've really started to focus on the Civil Rights Division. That's kind of priority one right now. ENRD, the grant programs are also things that are going to take up some early attention. And so to the extent that you have ideas, please feel free to share them with me. And they will be taken seriously as we try to work out what are priorities are going to be. I mean, the president has very consistently to us that, you know, science is back. And so to the extent that that plays and obviously plays an important role in the environmental sphere, keep that in mind in terms of what we want to focus on. Global warming -- I mean, there are a whole variety of issues that I think we need to focus on that have not gotten the attention that they deserved in the recent past. But if you have specific ideas or specific ideas you think we ought to be thinking about, specific means that we ought to be considering, please share those with us.

LISA MADIGAN (Illinois attorney general): General Holder, thank you for being with us. Lisa Madigan from Illinois. In terms of focusing on civil rights and thinking about areas that the Department of Justice can provide leadership, one of the aspects of the housing crisis that we have been looking into and others have already identified is not just lending problems but also noticing that if you're African American, if you're Latino, you were far more likely, even if you had good credit, to be put into a subprime loan. And we're continuing to investigate this, but we would certainly welcome kind of a reinvigoration at the Justice Department level of a lot of the civil rights work that had been going on, what, eight, nine, 12 years ago that for the last eight years has not been. So we think that's an important aspect of contending with the problems that we're seeing people face across the country.

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: Yeah. No, that is a priority. I've actually been talking to Bob Mueller, who's got mortgage fraud task forces in operation in a variety of places, and that's one component of the problem. But I think you're exactly right. There's a civil rights aspect to this as well and that needs to be examined. And I think this is one area where, in particular, I think we can work together. You're going to know in your states perhaps better than we do at the federal level what's going on, have a better sense of how we might prioritize the limited resources that we all have. But there's almost a moral component to that issue. And to the extent that you all will work with us on that, that is going to be a priority.

There are a whole host of civil rights issues that I think have not gotten the attention they have deserved over the past few years. Some of the stuff that I learned in the transition reports were frankly pretty shocking. And I think we're going to have to not only revitalize but rebuild the Civil Rights Division. And I think in the long term, we're going to be fine. But in the short term, I'll be very honest with you, I think we're going to have to depend on people like you, Attorney General Madigan, and other people to help us. We're going to need help as we try to reinvigorate, rebuild what has always been a great division but that has suffered a lot in the last eight years. But I think you're exactly right with regard to that part of the mortgage problem.

Congressman Attorney General, my leader, McCollum.

BILL MCCOLLUM (Florida attorney general): Well, and I've got a good one over here who wants to talk, too, next-door to me. General, I wanted to find out if you were thinking about resuming or continuing the anti-gang efforts. Several of our states, like Florida and New Jersey, probably have that as the toughest criminal justice issue we face other than Internet child cyber crime predators. And it's been an interesting development because each of the U.S. attorneys has been charged in the last administration with dealing with this, but they have groped to find ways to do some of the things they were charged to do.

And we've begun to develop liaisons and working state strategies. I know the two of us have been talking about it. But there are a number of other states, too. And I would just hope that, knowing your background, and I do know it, that you would take a special interest in this and try to see if you could reinvigorate and revitalize that as part of your initiative. It is a tremendous problem in Florida.

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: It's a huge problem all over the country. And it is something that I like to think I am familiar with and something that will be, I keep saying this, but yet another priority. The Department of Justice that I come back to is really different from the one that I left. It is a department that is largely formed or composed, put together after 9/11. There's a national security component to the Justice Department that is huge, and rightfully so.

But what I call the traditional parts of the department -- Criminal Division, the Civil Rights Division, ENRD -- have frankly been, I think, starved for both money and attention. And I'm not saying this in any critical way. I really don't mean to be critical here. The attention on the national security side was appropriate and will continue. But what we need to do is to focus on the things that the department traditionally did and traditionally worked with you all on. In the budget for 2010, we have gotten pretty substantial amounts of money, increases on the traditional side. The folks at OMB have heard us. Hopefully, our appropriators will agree.

But the fight against gangs, the assistance that the federal government can give to you all with regard to your fights, more generally, against crime, that's what I think we have to start doing again in a way that we have not done over the past few years. And when I say that, again, I don't mean to be critical there. The administration that just left has left in place, I think, a really good national security apparatus, and they had to focus there. I think it's now up to us to keep that focus as intense as it it but to reinvigorate the other side of the Justice Department.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (Connecticut attorney general): Dick Blumenthal, Connecticut. Let me add my thanks for your being here and your great work. Let me add another area where I think perhaps the cooperation was greater during previous periods, the whole financial and securities area where a number of us are active. And I wonder if we could get your perspective on where the regulatory reform seems to be going and whether there are opportunities for the states as well as the Justice Department to be more active in more aggressive enforcement.

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: Yeah. You know, I think it's pretty interesting that you all have certainly led the way in, you know, the recent past. And I think that is to your credit. And we certainly don't want to do anything that would inhibit the efforts that you all have put in place, the interest that you have shown when it comes to the securities, the regulator side. But the federal government, I think, has to be a bigger player than we have been. But I don't want to do something that displaces the efforts that you all have done. I mean, what you've heard me say over and over again, and I hope if you hear nothing else from me, it's to say that we need to be partners in this effort.

I mean, recognizing the great work that you've done, the expertise that you have developed and understanding, though, that there is a national perspective, I think, on some of these problems that only the federal government can really handle, again, doesn't mean that I want to push aside, displace, do anything with people who have done great work in that area. I just want to work with you. And so, again, yet another priority on that traditional side that I think we have to get back into.

But we come back into that area, I think, with a change, where it might have been an area that the federal government did almost exclusively or a greater percentage of it, I think that balance has now shifted. And I don't think that, you know, that's necessarily a bad thing that, you know, people like yourself and others have developed that kind of expertise and have people in your offices who have developed that kind of expertise. And maybe we talk about, you know, cross-designating people to work on federal cases. I mean, there are a whole variety of ways in which we can work together.

MR. LYNCH: We have time for one more question, General, I'm told. So General Suthers from Colorado.

JOHN SUTHERS (Colorado attorney general): John Suthers from Colorado. Several of us in the West have been working with Mexican state AGs and the federal AG Eduardo Medina Mora on a cooperative relationship. We're doing training for them and frankly are finding the efforts of the Calderon government very heroic, what's going on in the border war, and have developed considerable affinity for these prosecutors and others who are literally putting their lives on the line every day to keep drugs out of the United States. And I hope we're going to see a huge commitment from the United States to continue that assistance.

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: Absolutely. The first foreign visitor I had was the attorney general from Mexico. And I don't think it's an understatement, what you say that they are literally putting their lives on the line. The Calderon administration has made the determination that they are going to fight the narcotraffickers. And we have seen the result of that. There are, you know, literally thousands of people who have been killed, police officers, judges, prosecutors whose lives are, on a daily basis, put on the line.

I'm going to Mexico in early April as my first foreign visit, again to symbolically say that this is a relationship that we value and one that will be something that we will put a considerable amount of attention to. There is the Merida Initiative where you have I think it's $1.4 billion or so. We will make sure that those disbursements will go to the Mexican government in ways that they think are going to be most helpful to them.

We share more than just a common border with our neighbor to the south. I think in a lot of ways, their fate is linked to ours. And if we are naive to think that we can restrict those problems involving those narcotraffickers to, you know, south of the Rio Grande -- what happens there, as we saw in Project Accelerator, those narcotraffickers were arrested, some in Prince Georges County, other states around this country. So that is a key relationship, a relationship that we'll be spending a lot of time on.

I want to again thank you all so much for receiving me. Thank you so much, again, for the help that you shared with me during the confirmation process. I look forward to renewing old relationships and developing new ones. And if nothing else, as I said, please understand that at 9th and Penn you have a buddy, you have a friend, you have a person who understands the great work that you have done. And I look forward to working again with all of you, even Doug Gansler. (Laughter.)



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