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Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee - Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice


Location: Washington, DC

Welcome, Attorney General Holder, to your sixth appearance before the House Judiciary Committee since your confirmation in 2009. We are happy to have you here with us today.

Last month, the city of Boston and the nation as a whole was gripped with fear as the historic Boston Marathon, traditionally a day of celebration, was attacked by twin explosions that killed three people and injured more than 250.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev set off the explosions, then shot and killed MIT police officer Sean Collier and seriously wounded Boston Transit police officer Richard Donohue while attempting to elude capture. Tamerlan died after a fierce gun battle with police and Dzhokhar eventually surrendered after sustaining serious injuries himself.

I would like to commend the FBI, and all of the federal, state and local law enforcement agents who worked tirelessly to identify the bombers and apprehend Dzhokhar.

The Patriots Day attack in Boston shows us that domestic terror threats are real, ongoing, and can have deadly consequences. In 2010, FBI Director Mueller and other intelligence officials warned us that domestic and lone-wolf extremists are now just as serious a threat to our safety as al-Qaeda. We have been fortunate that, until April 15th of this year, previous domestic terror plots have been foiled.

The bombings in Boston remind us that the terror threat has not diminished, but that it is ever-present and evolving. It is critical that Congress, and this Committee in particular, ensure that our ability to detect, deter, and prosecute these threats keeps pace with this evolution.

To that end, I look forward to hearing from you today about ways that Congress can amend the federal rules for criminal cases to make sure that we are able to prosecute terrorism cases, while still allowing law enforcement to learn critical information to stop future attacks.

I am also concerned about reports that in the years leading up to the Boston attack, several different federal agencies or departments received intelligence about the bombers. These agencies did not connect the dots -- and this is not the first time this has happened in recent years. The question that the Administration and we in Congress need to address is whether there are any improvements that can be made going forward to facilitate inter-agency information sharing, so that we can better thwart future domestic terrorists.

I am also interested to hear today about how the Department intends to tighten its belt in a responsible way during this time of fiscal uncertainty. I was pleased to hear that the Department was ultimately able to prioritize its spending to avoid furloughing federal agents and prison guards in response to the sequester, which reduced the Department's more than $27 billion budget by approximately 5 percent.

However, after learning of elaborate conferences with $12 cups of coffee, $10,000 pizza parties, and a vast array of duplicative grant programs, I am confident that there are many ways the Department can root out waste and duplication without harming critical missions. With our national debt at more than $16 trillion, the American people deserve no less.

I am also deeply concerned about a pattern I see emerging at the Department under your leadership in which conclusions reached by career attorneys after thorough investigation are overruled by Administration appointees for political reasons.

For instance, investigators from this Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee have uncovered conclusive evidence that Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, against the strong recommendations of career attorneys, struck a secret deal with the city of St. Paul in order to block the Supreme Court from freely and impartially adjudicating an appeal that the Court had affirmatively chosen to hear. This secret deal undermined the rule of law and robbed the American taxpayers of the opportunity to recover over $200 million fraudulently obtained funds.

What is more, the New York Times recently reported that political appointees at the Department, over the vehement objections of career attorneys, decided to commit as much as $4.4 billion in taxpayer money to compensate thousands of farmers who had never claimed bias in court. A small group of female and Hispanic farmers, based on claims similar to those in Pigford, had made allegations that the Department of Agriculture had discriminated against them in administering its loan programs. However, according to the Times, career attorneys within the Department determined that there was "no credible evidence of widespread discrimination," that "the legal risks did not justify the costs," and that it was "legally questionable to sidestep Congress and compensate the . . . farmers out of . . . the Judgment Fund."

Just last week we learned that IRS employees have admittedly targeted conservative groups for additional and unwarranted scrutiny, just because they chose to exercise their First Amendment rights. This is outrageous, and Congress and the American people expect answers and accountability.

Finally, just two days ago it was revealed that the Justice Department obtained telephone records for more than 20 Associated Press reporters and editors over a two-month period. These requests appear to be very broad and intersect important First Amendment protections. Any abridgement of the First Amendment right to the freedom of the press is very concerning, and members of the Committee want to hear an explanation from you today.

I look forward to hearing your answers on all of these important topics today, as well as on other issues of significance to the Justice Department and the country.

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