Attorney General Eric Holder Testifies Before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Jan. 29, 2014

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—January 29, 2014.

Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley, and Members of the Committee: thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the recent achievements and the ongoing priorities of the U.S. Department of Justice.

I would like to thank Members of Congress for coming together earlier this month to pass a bipartisan budget agreement that restores the Department’s funding to pre-sequestration levels.  We are reviewing this legislation to determine its impact on specific programs and components, but we anticipate that it will provide for the hiring of additional federal agents, prosecutors, and other essential staff.  This will allow us to invest in innovative programs, to keep supporting state and local law enforcement agencies, and to continue building upon the outstanding work that my colleagues have made possible over the past year.

As I have often said, the Department’s top priority must always be the protection of the American people from terrorism and other national security threats.  Since I last appeared before this Committee, we have continued to strengthen key intelligence-gathering capabilities; to refine our ability to identify and disrupt potential terrorist plots; and to ensure that those charged with terrorism-related offenses can be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.  As President Obama noted in a speech at the Justice Department roughly two weeks ago, in carrying out this work it is imperative that we continue striving to protect our national security while upholding the civil liberties we all hold dear.  On Monday, we took a significant step forward in this regard when the Department acted to allow more detailed disclosures about the number of national security orders and requests that are issued to communications providers; the number of customer accounts targeted under those orders and requests; and the underlying legal authorities.

Through these new reporting methods, communications providers will be permitted to disclose more information than ever before to their customers.  Allowing disclosure of this aggregate data will resolve an important area of concern to communications providers and the public.  And in the weeks ahead, as we move forward with the timely implementation of this and other reforms directed by the President, my colleagues and I will work closely with members of this Committee and other Congressional leaders to determine the best path forward.

We also will continue enforcing essential privacy protections and other safeguards concerning data possessed by government as well as the private sector.  The Department of Justice takes seriously reports of any data breach, particularly those involving personally identifiable or financial information, and looks into allegations that are brought to its attention.  While we generally do not discuss specific matters under investigation, I can confirm the Department is investigating the breach involving the U.S. retailer, Target.  And we are committed to working to find not only the perpetrators of these sorts of data breaches – but also any individuals and groups who exploit that data via credit card fraud.

Beyond this important work, the Department will continue to build on the progress we have seen in confronting a wide variety of other threats and challenges – from combating drug and human trafficking, to addressing cyber-attacks, protecting Americans from violent crime, and taking common-sense steps to reduce gun violence.  Earlier this month, the Department strengthened the federal background check system by clarifying federal rules concerning mental health-based prohibitions on firearm purchases.  Under the leadership of our Civil Division, we are working diligently with our federal agency partners to implement the Supreme Court’s ruling, in United States v. Windsor, to make real the promise of equal protection under the law for all American families – and to extend applicable federal benefits to married same-sex couples.  And we are vigorously enforcing federal voting protections – and working with Congressional leaders from both parties to refine and strengthen the proposals that Congress is currently considering – to help ensure that every eligible American has access to the franchise.

In addition, last year – as part of our ongoing efforts to hold accountable those whose conduct sowed the seeds of the mortgage crisis – the Department filed suits against Bank of America and the ratings firm S&P.  In November, the Department reached a $13 billion settlement with JP Morgan Chase & Co. – the largest settlement with any single entity in American history – to resolve federal and state civil claims related to the company’s mortgage securitization process.  These results demonstrate that no firm, no matter how profitable, is above the law.  And they reinforce our commitment to integrity and equal justice in every case, in every circumstance, and in every community.

This commitment is also reflected in the new “Smart on Crime” initiative I announced this past August – to strengthen our federal criminal justice system; to increase our emphasis on proven diversion, rehabilitation, and reentry programs; and to reduce unnecessary collateral consequences for those seeking to rejoin their communities.  As part of the “Smart on Crime” approach, I mandated a significant change to the Justice Department’s charging policies to ensure that people accused of certain low-level federal drug crimes will face sentences appropriate to their individual conduct – and that stringent mandatory minimum sentences will be reserved for the most serious criminals.  Alongside other important reforms, this change will make our criminal justice system not only fairer, but also more efficient.  And it will complement proposals like the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act – introduced by Senators Dick Durbin and Mike Lee – which would give judges more discretion in determining appropriate sentences for people convicted of certain federal drug crimes.

I look forward to working with Chairman Leahy, distinguished members of this Committee, and other leaders who have shown a commitment to common-sense sentencing reform – like Senator Rand Paul – to help advance this and other legislation.  I thank you all, once again, for your continued support of the Department of Justice.  And I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.