An increasing number of individuals have been captivated by extremist ideology, Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference Thursday announcing charges against 14 individuals for supporting a terrorist group operating in Somalia.
But those in the American Muslim community are strong partners in fighting the threat, Holder said, and there needs to be more recognition of their efforts.
“It’s a disturbing trend that we have been intensely investigating in recent years and will continue to investigate and root out,” Holder said. “But we must also work to prevent this type of radicalization from ever taking hold.”
The Justice Department announced the charges against 14 individuals in Minnesota, California and Alabama at the mid-day news conference Thursday. The defendants are charged with providing material support for the terrorist group al-Shabab, which is based in Somalia and has ties to al-Qaeda. Just two of those charged have been arrested as of Thursday.
Of the 14 individuals charged, 26-year-old Alabama native Omar Hamammi is the most well-known. He has appeared in videos for al-Shabab, including at least two which show him rapping in English, according to NBC.
Hamammi has taken on an operational role within the organization, Holder said. He declined to elaborate.
With the latest indictments, the Justice Department has charged 40 U.S. citizens with category 1 international terrorism violations — the most serious charges such as the use of weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to murder persons overseas or providing material support for terrorism — in 2009 and 2010. That number does not include any foreign citizens, permanent U.S. residents or visa holders.
Holder was joined at the news conference by Sean Joyce, the Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s National Security Branch; Assistant Attorney General for National Security David Kris; U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota B. Todd Jones; U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama Kenyen R. Brown; and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Laura E. Duffy.
“Members of the American Muslim community have been – and continue to be – strong partners in fighting this emerging threat. They have regularly denounced terrorist acts and those who carry them out. And they have provided critical assistance to law enforcement in helping to disrupt terrorist plots and combat radicalization,” Holder said.
Holder said individuals in the American Muslim community have consistently expressed deep concern about the recruitment of their youth by terrorist groups. The community has taken proactive steps to stop the recruitment, Holder said, such as a video made by a group of American Muslims that repudiates the tactics used by radical terrorists to recruit young followers online.
That video was produced by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which has taken on a prominent liaison role at the Justice Department and the FBI. At a speech in June, Holder said he found it “intolerable” that Arab and Muslim Americans feel uncomfortable about their relationship with law enforcement.
“There needs to be more recognition of these efforts and of the losses suffered in the Muslim community here and around the world,” Holder said Thursday. “Many of the victims of terror attacks by al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups are innocent Muslims.”
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Garland called his decision to return to private practice “bittersweet,” but said it was difficult to maintain the pace of his Justice Department job with his three young children.
“In this job, the schedule is so crisis driven, so emergency driven, you don’t have the ability in a real practical sense to plan your life, to plan your day,” Garland told the NLJ. “The pace of this job is like nothing I’ve ever known. It’s not sustainable for the long run with a family. The person who gets that most of all is the attorney general. He was supportive of my decision.”
Holder praised Garland’s work, pointing to his efforts on financial fraud, antitrust and intellectual property law.
Garland has been “instrumental in helping to reinvigorate the department’s core missions and re-establish its reputation for independence,” Holder said. “I’m grateful for his wise counsel, as well as his friendship, his sense of humor, and his tremendous respect for the work he’s helped to advance. Jim has served the Department of Justice—and his country—well, and we will truly miss him.”
In an interview with the newspaper last week, Garland described his time at the Justice Department as “an incredible life experience.”
Garland was born in Columbus, Ohio and graduated from Columbus Academy before heading to Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. After graduation, he took a job with Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers). After two years, Garland enrolled at the University of Virginia School of Law.
He worked as a summer associate at Covington during law school and later clerked for Appeals Judge R. Guy Cole of the 6th Circuit. When he returned to Covington in 2001, Garland worked as a litigator on commercial cases, antitrust issues and white-collar criminal defense, often working directly with Holder, then a partner at Covington.
Because his job did not require Senate confirmation, Garland was part of the so-called “Day One Group” at the Justice Department, according to WhoRunsGov.com. After President Barack Obama took his oath of office, Garland and a handful of other political appointees also took their oaths and started work.
At the Justice Department, Garland handled antitrust issues, state and local law enforcement, and all criminal matters not related to national security. He served as the Attorney General’s point man for the department response to the economic crisis and advised Holder about when the federal government should seek the death penalty.
Garland is not the first top Holder aide to announce his departure; national security adviser Amy Jeffress is also leaving her position to become the Justice Department’s attaché at the U.S. Embassy in London.
Read the full interview with The National Law Journal here.
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The Justice Department on Monday issued the National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, which officials said provided the first-ever comprehensive threat assessment of the dangers facing children from child pornography, online enticement, child sex tourism, commercial sexual exploitation and sexual exploitation in Indian Country.
Attorney General Eric Holder, announcing the plan on Monday, also said the U.S. Marshals Service would be launching a nationwide operation targeting the top 500 most dangerous non-compliant sex offenders in the country.
The 280-page document outlines a blueprint to strengthen the fight against child exploitation, said DOJ. It concludes that cooperation and coordination “at all levels of government” will lead to better results.
The Department of Justice has filed 8,464 Project Safe Childhood cases against 8,637 defendants, according to the report. While the report touts the progress that has been made, it says the Department recognizes that more work must be done.
U.S. Attorneys offices have allocated 38 additional Assistant U.S. Attorney positions to devote to child exploitation cases, according to the report. The Justice Department is working to fill the positions and provide additional training to those prosecutors. Under the plan, the U.S. Marshals Service will set up a “fully operational” National Sex Offender Targeting Center to better track and apprehend fugitive sex offenders.
To help with public outreach, DOJ is re-launching ProjectSafeChildhood.gov. Project Safe Childhood is an initiative launched in 2006 that aims to combat the proliferation of crimes that use modern technology to sexually exploit children.
The report is embedded below.
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Attorney General Eric Holder may be a fan of the Justice Department’s prisoner reentry programs, but an audit released Wednesday by the DOJ’s Inspector General found the department is doing a poor job monitoring the effectiveness of programs aimed at reducing recidivism.
According to the report, the Inspector General’s office could not determine if Office of Justice Program grants were successful in reducing recidivism rates because the office does not effectively track how the programs that receive grants spend their funds.
The report included an audit of 10 grant programs worth $17.9 million from January 2005 through November 2009 which questioned how $5.2 million of that money was spent. The Inspector General found in the overall report, which covered three separate grant programs spanning from fiscal year 2002 through January 2010, that in many cases there was little documentation showing the office followed up with grantees after awarding them with funding.
More than 50 percent of those released from prison will be in legal trouble again within three years, according to OJP. The grant programs provide services to high-risk offenders — such as substance abuse prevention and employment and training assistance — in the hopes of reducing the rate of recidivism.
The Inspector General found that the office had not established an effective system to assess whether offender reentry programs were meeting their goals and called on OJP to improve the management and oversight of the programs.
The audit recommend 11 changes to OJP’s grant process, including establishing baseline recidivism data, developing a program to analyze the performance of programs, and identifying best practices.
Justice Department officials said in a statement that they already had taken steps to address many of the issues raised in the audit.
OJP officials said the office will implement a new system, called the performance measurement tool, to collect data on reentry grant programs. The new system would be in place by Oct. 1.
They said the findings would inform the implementation of the Second Chance Act Offender Reentry Initiative, which is a top priority for the administration.
The full report from the Office of the Inspector General is embedded below.
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Thad Allen, the retired Coast Guard admiral who has become the federal government’s point man on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, briefly met with Attorney General Eric Holder and his staff at Justice Department headquarters on Tuesday to update the nation’s top federal prosecutor on the latest developments in response to the spill.
After the meeting, Allen held his daily news briefing in the conference room on the seventh floor of the Robert F. Kennedy building. Employees removed the Justice Department emblem on the front of the podium, raised the insignia that hangs in the backdrop and the moved the department’s flag offstage.
“If you’re wondering why I’m in the DOJ building, I like to…circulate among the cabinet officers and make sure that there aren’t any issues that I need to be dealing with,” Allen said. “I had a brief meeting with the Attorney General and his staff, it was a very, very good meeting.”
There was no particular focus to the meeting with the Attorney General, Allen said, but they discussed issues the government faces in the Gulf Coast region.
They did not talk about the criminal investigation during the meeting, Allen said.
“We did not discuss the investigation per se,” Allen said, noting there were “a number of areas where our interests cross” on the issue of the oil spill.
“I’m not indicating there’s anything being walled off,” Allen said. “We just had a very general discussion about the issues that are going on down there. It just was a private discussion between myself and the Attorney General.”
Holder has been criticized in recent weeks for his announcement last month that the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into those responsible for the oil spill. The Washington Post editorial board called his handling of the probe “odd.” But Holder has defended his announcement, arguing the extraordinary circumstances made it “appropriate to let the American people know that the federal government was understanding what was going on.”
The Attorney General visited the Gulf Coast region for the second time since the spill last week.
Allen, who as National Incident Commander reports to President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said at the briefing that the government would allow BP to extend for 24 hours a pressure test on the capped well after they determined that a nearby seepage of oil is not related to the test.
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One of the longest serving career employees in the history of the U.S. government will retire after nearly 60 years at the Justice Department.
John C. “Jack” Keeney joined the Criminal Division of the Justice Department in 1951, and has served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division for several decades.
Keeney told Lanny Breuer, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, that he would be retiring last week, and Breuer announced the retirement Monday. Keeney will remain at the Justice Department for about three more months, said Breuer.
“There’s simply no way to talk about the department’s legendary efforts to fight organized crime without talking about and taking a moment to speak about the efforts of one of our most revered forefathers, Jack Keeney,” Breuer said. “Some people mistakenly thought that the biggest career move announced last week involved Lebron James, but for the people at the Department of Justice, the biggest career move announced last week involved a true hall-of-famer, [the] almost five-foot-nine Mr. Keeney.”
Keeney’s decision to retire, said Breuer, “took my breath away.” He called him a “career prosecutor in every sense of the word and meaning.”
“His devotion to the department and to mentoring thousands of young prosecutors is unparalleled,” Breuer said.
Keeney sat in during Breuer’s remarks but did not make any comments.
Keeney served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and was captured by German forces in 1945 and held as a prisoner of war. After he left the Army, Keeney graduated from the University of Scranton in 1947. He received law degrees at Dickinson School of Law in 1949 and from George Washington University School of Law in 1953.
Keeney joined the DOJ Criminal Division in 1951. Three years later, he became chief of the unit that prosecuted Smith Act cases,involving conspiracies to overthrow the U.S. government.
In 1960, he transferred to Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, serving as Deputy Chief. From 1969 to 1973, he served as chief of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
Keeney later representative of the U.S. team that negotiated the mutual legal assistance treaty in criminal matters with Switzerland.
He has served as acting Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division on several occassions.
In 1996, Keeney received the Attorney General’s Award, the highest award bestowed by the Attorney General. In 1990, he also received the Criminal Division’s highest award, the Henry E. Petersen Memorial Award, for his lasting contribution to the division.
In 2000, the Justice Department named one of its buildings (130l New York Avenue, N.W.) after Keeney — an honor rarely bestowed on living persons.
Additional reporting by Leah Nylen and Joe Palazzolo.
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A recent Government Accountability Office report found that 32 politically appointed Justice Department employees had transitioned to career DOJ positions during the last years of the Bush administration, a process known as “burrowing in.” In two instances involving DOJ appointees, proper protocol was not followed in the transition process, the GAO found.
The GAO report, released Tuesday, looked at cases across the federal government from May 1, 2005 through May 30, 2009. The report found that 139 political appointees transitioned to career jobs during that time period, with the largest number of cases occurring at the DOJ.
Burrowing in, sometimes also called “digging in,” is not unique to the George W. Bush administration. The practice has gone on for years and is tolerated by both political parties. It can represent an effort by political appointees to move to a safer career track in order to keep a government job leading up to or after a new president is elected.
In a 2000 report on the same topic, the GAO found that 57 political appointees in the Clinton administration converted to career positions from October 1998 to June 2000, with 13 — the most of any agency — transitioning at the Justice Department.
Tuesday’s report did not condemn the practice, noting that political appointees “can bring valuable skills and experience to the federal workforce, and the merit-based conversion of political appointees to career positions can be a useful means to achieving a highly qualified workforce.”
Most of the DOJ cases examined in the report occurred while Bush was in office, including some just a few days before President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Some of the employees may have switched at the beginning of Obama’s term and may have been approved by Obama’s Justice Department appointees.
According to the report, in January 2007 an unnamed special assistant to the Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division was allegedly improperly converted into an Assistant U.S. Attorney position in the Southern District of Florida.
The GAO report said that most of the officials conducting interviews for the position recommended against the hire, and one official noted that they had interviewed at least two superior candidates. The officials “noted the eventual selectee’s lack of experience, that he did not appear to stay in any job for an extended period of time, and observed that his writing sample did not contain much original writing, but was boilerplate,” according to the report.
Even though the former special assistant was viewed as a weak candidate, he was hired as a career Assistant U.S. Attorney position after serving on a six-month detail. “This action appears to violate the prohibition against granting unauthorized advantages to individuals in the hiring process,” the report concluded.
In another instance, the U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Georgia authorized a vacancy announcement for a career position for which she later applied and was selected to fill. “Although there is no evidence to suggest that the eventual selectee was involved in the actual selection process, this appearance of a violation of ethical standards calls this conversion action into question,” the report said, adding that it was a potential violation of ethical standards.
The Justice Department told the GAO that the agency’s ethics officer “is gathering information on this conversion and, based on the information she receives, her office will take the appropriate next steps.”
While the individual is not named in the report, the GAO noted that the individual was appointed U.S. Marshal in August 2002 — a description that fits Theresa Rodgers who was appointed U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Georgia at that time.
U.S. Marshals spokesman Jeff Carter confirmed that Rodgers is still with the U.S. Marshals service but declined to comment on the report.
“It would be inappropriate for the U.S. Marshals Service to comment on the GAO report since, as is indicated in the report, the agency is conducting an ethical standards inquiry for potential departmental review,” Carter said in a statement.
In the majority of cases examined, DOJ used proper protocol, according to the report. Some of those cases include:
- The Director of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service became the Director of the Office of Self-Governance in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in January 2007.
- In another instance, the Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics became the Deputy Director for Planning in the Planning Office of the Director’s office of the Bureau of Justice Assistance in 2006 and received a $10,000 boost in salary.
- A Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Assistant Attorney General became the Deputy Associate Solicitor for Mineral Resources in the Office of the Solicitor in July 2007 and received a $9,000 salary boost.
- The U.S. Marshall for the District of Nebraska took the position of Criminal Investigator in the Judicial Security Division of the Office of Protective Operations of the United States Marshals Service, along with a $10,000 cut in salary in July 2008.
- The Supervisory Criminal Investigator in Superior Court for the United States Marshals Service became a Criminal Investigator in the Human Resources Division of the Training Academy of the United States Marshals Service in 2008.
- The U.S. Attorney at Charlotte Headquarters of the Department of Justice became an Attorney Adviser in Western Charlotte Headquarters in March 2009, keeping the same salary.
- The Chief Of Staff in the Office of the General Counsel, became an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne, Wyo., just before the end of the Bush administration.
- A Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Chief of Staff in the Office of Legal Policy became an Attorney Adviser in the Office of Legal Policy in December 2007.
- A Deputy Administrator in the Office of Justice Programs became an Assistant U.S. Attorney for The District of Columbia in the Executive Office for United States Attorneys in November 2006.
- An Attorney Adviser in the Drug Enforcement Task Force became an Attorney-Adviser in the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys General Counsel Office in March 2009, keeping the same salary.
Additional reporting by David Johnston.
The full report is embedded below.
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Justice Department employees packed the Great Hall on Wednesday morning to give First Lady Michelle Obama a rousing greeting as she thanked them for their service.
Since her husband took office last year, Obama has visited several government agencies to thank federal employees for their service.
DOJ staffers filed into the standing-room-only Great Hall as early as 7:30 a.m. Others took up posts on the third-floor balcony above the auditorium. When Obama emerged from the rear of the stage just after 11:30 a.m., a sea of cameras and phones sprang up from the crowd to capture the moment. Later, shrieks rang out when Obama approached the crowd to shake hands with career attorneys and top-ranking DOJ officials.
The greeting was so warm, in fact, that Attorney General Eric Holder offered the First Lady a job at DOJ.
“I can tell you that, like the president, she has a brilliant legal mind,” Holder said. “I have been so impressed by her legal skills that I’m going to make her an offer — right now — to join the best lawyers in the world, right here at DOJ.”
The First Lady praised both the Attorney General and the work of the employees of the Department of Justice.
“One of the privileges of being First Lady has been the opportunity to visit so many agencies over the past year or so so that I can thank all of you, really, for the hard work and dedication that you’ve all put in,” Obama said. “You put in long hours. And a lot of people look at the President, they look at your boss, and they say, well, you’re working hard. But the truth is — and we all know this — you all are putting in that kind of time as well. You’re making sacrifices. You miss time with your families. And often, you do it without getting any recognition from anyone.
“So I want to let you know how much that we value everything that you’re doing here, however long you’ve been doing it,” she added.
Obama also gave a shout-out to those who work outside Justice Department headquarters — Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives employees, FBI agents, U.S. Marshals and the U.S. Attorneys.
Justice Department employees Celeste Simmons, Janean Bentley, and Cee Cee Simpson Allaway said they were the first three to arrive at 7:30 a.m.
“It was worth it, I would do it again anytime,” said Simmons, an investigator in the Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section who has been with the department for 15 years.
They were joined by Sabrina Jenkins, a fellow employee in the Disability Rights Section, and Angela Parks of the Criminal Division. All said they were thrilled to meet and shake hands with the First Lady and showed off pictures they took of Obama.
Joining the First Lady and the Attorney General on stage were some of the Justice Department’s longest serving employees, including Jack Keeney, Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division, who at age 88 still holds an office at DOJ headquarters.
The other long-serving employees on stage were: Civil Division trial attorney Marshall T. Golding, who joined DOJ in April 1957; FBI employee Earl F. Hostetler Jr., who began his career in June 1961; Justice Management Division security specialist Barbara J. Russell, who began her career with the Department of Justice in July 1961; Civil Division legal assistant William H. Wiggins, who has been with DOJ since December 1963; FBI telephone operator Mary C. Smith, who entered the FBI in June 1964; FBI support services technician Marcia M. Taylor, who began her FBI career in September 1965; Civil Division mail clerk Eugene W. Crane, who started his career at DOJ in January 1966; Civil Division Appellate Staff Director Robert E. Kopp, who has served since August 1966; Justice Management Division Procurement Analyst Patricia Ann Belcher; Civil Rights Analyst Myra D. Wastaff; and Senior Counsel for Appeals in the Criminal Division Sidney Glazer.
Officials seated in front of the crowd included Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, and Assistant Attorneys General Tony West, Christine Varney and Ronald Weich.
Story updated at 4:45 p.m.
Attorney General Eric Holder and First Lady Michelle Obama’s remarks are available below.
Good morning. Thank you all for being here today to help me welcome our nation’s First Lady – and my good friend – to the Department of Justice.
In the recent past, including many miles on the campaign trail, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know our First Lady. And I can tell you that, like the President, she has a brilliant legal mind. I have been so impressed by her legal skills that I’m going to make her an offer- right now- to join the best lawyers in the world, right here at DOJ.
I’ve also learned that she has a deep appreciation for the work and many responsibilities of the Justice Department. But what’s impressed me most, and what I admire most about her, is her commitment to justice.
Many of you already know her extraordinary story – that she grew up in a small apartment on the South Side of Chicago and, with hard work, determination and the support of a loving family, made her way to Princeton University, then Harvard Law School, then on to one of the nation’s premier law firms. And she decided long ago – long before she became First Lady – that she wanted to harness the power of the law to generate positive social change and build a more just society.
That commitment took her in unexpected directions. As she once put it – and I know many of you feel this way, too – she realized that she, “wanted to have a career motivated by passion and not just money.” And so she built on her legal training to serve communities, assemble volunteers, and – despite the pay cut – spend her time inspiring young people to enter public service themselves.
And did I mention that it was because of the law that she met a certain summer associate – and her law firm mentee – who would change her life? She has said that she, and I quote, “wasn’t expecting much” of the young Harvard Law student who everyone else was raving about. But shortly after they met, our President summoned all the charm he could muster – and all the moves he had – and apparently it worked. From that time on, our First Lady has been, not only a distinguished attorney, executive, and community leader, but also, in her husband’s words, “the rock” of her family. Indeed, she does seem to do it all: lawyer, advocate, visionary and, above all, the mother of two wonderful daughters, a supportive and engaged wife, and a wonderful daughter herself.
Over the past year and a half, the First Lady has also become “the rock” of our nation – a committed, and already accomplished, force for positive change, especially for young people. Last month, I had the privilege to join her in Detroit, where she kicked off a day of mentoring and called on young students to work hard and, just as important, to give back. And her “Let’s Move!” campaign to eliminate childhood obesity is already creating a healthier – and, in a very real sense, more just – America.
But her commitment and her tireless efforts don’t stop there. She also works to support military families, to serve as a role model for working women, to promote the arts and arts education, and – of course – to continue to make sure that my boss still takes out the trash. That can’t still be true!
When I think about the First Lady, I’m struck by the fact that, though I’ve only known her for a few years, it feels like so many. That’s the kind of friend our speaker is. From the day we met, she has made me feel welcome and at home. And so in that same spirit, I’d like us to welcome her to our home here at the Department of Justice. Ladies and gentlemen – the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Such a warm and wonderful welcome. I am thrilled to be here.
I want to start by thanking our outstanding Attorney General, Eric Holder, your boss, for that very kind introduction, and also for the wonderful work that he’s doing here at the Department of Justice. He is — I could say the same accolades as he said about me. He’s just been a phenomenal support, not just to the President but to me personally.
As he mentioned, he joined me along with celebrities and other people from the administration in Detroit to do some very important mentoring in Detroit. And he was just amazing. I mean, you know how busy he is. And my view is that if this man can take the time out to fly and spend a day talking to young people, I mean, sitting down at a table with kids, and talking about how they can pursue their dreams, how he can use his own story to show them that they can reach for passions that maybe they thought they never could, that he, in his own role, serves as a role model. If he can do that, then we all can do that.
And I know that there’s so many of you here who are following that lead. And I’m grateful to him and I’m grateful to all of you for serving in that role. So we have to give him an incredible thank you. (Applause.)
I’m told that Eric started out as a 25-year-old law graduate — school graduate working in the Public Integrity Section here at DOJ. You were 25?
ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: That was five years ago.
MRS. OBAMA: Five years ago. (Laughter.) And even though he’s been around the block a few times since then — (laughter) — only five years — he’s never lost that sense of responsibility that comes from working to uphold our highest legal principles. It’s a responsibility that all of you share, and one that some of you have been shouldering for quite a while, I understand. That’s why I want to take a moment to recognize the folks here on the stage with me. These are some of the longest-serving employees here at the Department of Justice. I don’t know the numbers here, but they’ve been here for quite some time, and I want to take some time to give them a round of applause for their dedication. (Applause.)
It’s just wonderful to see people who have made commitments for decades to government service, and it’s important for the world to see, particularly young people, to see how people are building and have built lifetimes here serving the broader community.
And I know that even though we’re here at Main Justice, I also want to recognize the men and women who serve as the faces of this agency in communities all across the country: the FBI and the ATF agents. (Applause.) The U.S. Marshals and the hardworking folks at the U.S. Attorneys offices who are on the ground every day — yay, yes — (applause) — they’re keeping us safe and protecting our most basic rights.
And when I travel, one of the great things I get to do is usually see the U.S. Attorneys on the ground. So our congratulations and thanks goes out to everyone.
One of the privileges of being First Lady has been the opportunity to visit so many agencies over the past year or so so that I can thank all of you, really, for the hard work and dedication that you’ve all put in. You put in long hours. And a lot of people look at the President, they look at your boss, and they say, well, you’re working hard. But the truth is — and we all know this — you all are putting in that kind of time as well. You’re making sacrifices. You miss time with your families. And often, you do it without getting any recognition from anyone.
So I want to let you know how much that we value everything that you’re doing here, however long you’ve been doing it, because I know we have a lot of newbies here, folks who are just joining the department as well. Yay, all right, let’s give them a round of applause, too. (Applause.)
So that’s one of the reasons I’ve been doing these visits, to make sure that you all know that even in the heat of change and all the work that goes on here, that we haven’t forgotten the work that you do and the sacrifices that you make.
These visits, though, also help me get a better understanding of what’s happening in some of these agencies, to listen, to learn about your work and to help spotlight the difference that you make in the lives of so many Americans, because when I show up, there are cameras that usually come, and I think it’s important for the people around the country to know that government is working hard for the American people and that it’s made up of everyday Americans who are making sacrifices on their behalf.
And I have to admit that I’m especially excited to be here at DOJ because we have a lot in common, many of us here. As many of you know, long before I lived in the White House, I worked in Chicago, and I did a little law thing. (Laughter.) I decided to study law for some of the same reasons many of you did. Number one, math was really hard. (Laughter.) And as my mother said, I talked a lot — (laughter) — and could write pretty good. But it’s also because I’ve seen the power that law has to change people’s lives in a very real and meaningful way. And I knew that lawyers had the ability to help turn words on a page into justice in the world –- to keep a neighborhood safe; to keep a family in their home; to leave our children a world that is a little more equal and a little more just.
And I also — as Eric mentioned — I met this guy named Barack Obama while I was studying law. (Laughter.) Yes, he was my mentee — a summer associate when I was a first-year associate. So that was a nice little perk from my law career. (Laughter.)
And here at DOJ, you all represent the ideals that drew us all to this business in the first place: those principles of equality, fairness and the rule of law. Your responsibility is not to a particular party — and that’s important for people to understand — or to a particular administration or to a President. You work for the American people. You do battle every day on behalf of the most vulnerable among us. And you touch the lives of virtually every American in ways large and small -– even if they don’t realize it.
For a department that started out with a single, part-time employee in 1789, the workload here at DOJ has really never stopped growing. And I know you all are feeling that right now.
Whether it’s keeping our nation safe from terrorist attacks, or bringing our most hardened criminals to justice, protecting consumers or safeguarding our civil rights, your work has never been more important that it is today.
That’s especially true in the wake of the worst environmental disaster that we’ve ever faced here in this nation. And I know that the Attorney General and several members of the leadership team have traveled to the Gulf, and many folks here in this agency are working tirelessly to ensure that accountability is going on, that we’re protecting taxpayer dollars, and that we’re helping those affected by the oil spill really get back on their feet.
And people need to know that the Department of Justice is at the center of that work. But it’s not just the work that you do that makes this place so special. It’s what you all bring to the work that you do. It’s the passion, and the persistence and the energy that you bring to your cases.
And I know to be here, taking pay cuts as many of you do, you’ve got to be doing it because of passion because all of you all would be at a firm somewhere if it didn’t mean something to you.
But that’s true whether you’re an attorney, a paralegal, a librarian, a support staffer — truly, the dedication that you’ve all shown is extraordinary. And I’m proud — very proud — of the work that you’ve done, and I’m extremely grateful for what you’re doing every day.
And it is not an easy job. That I know as well. But the fact that so many of you have stuck around for so long really says something about the culture of this agency.
Administrations, as you know, can come and go, but the pride that you put into your work, it never fades. As Attorney General Holder likes to say, working here isn’t just about making a living. And that’s so important for young people out there to know and to see. These jobs, it’s not about earning the dollar; it’s about making a difference in someone’s life.
And this group really takes those words to heart. I’m told that in the first six months of this year, your attorneys have taken on 20 pro bono cases -– from custody battles and landlord-tenant disputes, to domestic violence and personal injury cases. Pro bono, for those of you who don’t know, is completely free legal service.
And 50 of your attorneys, I understand, have staffed legal clinics right here in D.C., helping to write wills, to file taxes and to do other important work for members right here in this community who couldn’t otherwise afford it.
In the end, that’s really what the Department of Justice is all about. That’s really what the field of law is supposed to be about. You all help make the promise of our laws a reality for every single American regardless of their race, their standing or their political affiliation.
From the Great Hall of the Supreme Court to a folding table in a legal clinic, you help our families secure the protection that they need and the rights that they deserve. And you do it with a level of fairness and compassion that stands as an example to us all.
So for that reason, I’m here to show you, along with the rest of America, our gratitude, our admiration. These are going to be tough times. And we’re going to need every one of you to buckle up and work even harder. But it’s easier to have that conversation here because you all know what hard work means. You all know what sacrifice means.
And it’s important for us to share those values with the next generation. We need to replace you all. We need to start working on the next generation of staffers and attorneys and librarians and paralegals who are going to fill these seats in decades to come. And they’re going to do that because of the work that they see you doing. They’re going to do that because of the pride that you take in your work. We are the role models for the next generation.
So we are grateful for your work. And I just look forward to coming out there and shaking a few hands.
So thank you, thank you so much. (Applause.)
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Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli said Wednesday that the Justice Department continues to closely monitor the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and will use all possible means to hold those responsible accountable for the damage.
Perrelli testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in support of the Obama administration’s proposal to lift the cap on liability for economic damages incurred following oil spills. Under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, liability is capped at $75 million.
But Perrelli said that while the Oil Pollution Act is the primary vehicle for addressing liability, it is not the only means of seeking compensation.
“It is important to remember that OPA expressly preserves state and other federal mechanisms for pursuing damages for injuries caused by such incidents and for assessing penalties for the underlying conduct that may cause such disasters,” Perrelli said in prepared remarks.
Perrelli also noted that there are at least three recognized exceptions to the cap, including when there has been negligence.
BP has promised it will not limit itself to the $75 million cap and will pay all legitimate claims. Perrilli said the Justice Department expects BP to uphold that commitment.
At least one member raised concerns because BP qualified its pledge by saying it would pay “legitimate” claims. But Perrelli told the committee that “legitimate” is not a legal term.
“The term ‘legitimate,’ as I’ve heard it, has been used by BP. It’s not a statutory term,” Perrelli said. “Our view is that the scope of damages that is available under OPA is quite broad…and we anticipate pursing BP and other responsible parties for a wide range of damages.”
Perrelli also said the Justice Department was concerned that BP may try to go into bankruptcy or split into several companies to prevent paying the full damages.
“It is an issue of real concern to us because we want to make that the responsible parties truly have the wherewithal to compensate the American people for the damage done,” Perrelli said. “We are reviewing our options, and hope to be able to report back to you soon with the action we’ll take.”
Attorney General Eric Holder has assembled a team of lawyers from the Civil Division and the Environment and Natural Resource Division who have experience with the legal issues that arise out of oil spills and other environmental disasters, Perrelli said.
“President Obama, the Department of Justice, and the entire administration are committed to ensuring that those responsible for this tragic series of events are held fully accountable,” Perrelli said.
Perrelli’s full remarks are embedded below.
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A man dressed as George Washington and a small gang of hemp fans protested outside the Justice Department Wednesday, asking Attorney General Eric Holder to allow United States farmers to grow the fiber cultivated from Cannabis plants.
Fewer than ten — who arrived in a van powered by waste vegetable oil and hemp oil — gathered as part of Hemp History Week.
Since 1937, when marijuana was classified as a narcotic drug, U.S. farmers have been effectively banned from growing the plant. But before then, hemp was a stable crop of many American farmers and several former Presidents, including Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, grew the plant.
Earlier this week, the North Dakota Speaker of the House, David Monson, brought a lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration, arguing that there have been unreasonable delays to his 2007 application to grow industrial hemp.
Holder said in October that the prosecution of medical marijuana users was not a priority for the Justice Department.
For more on Hemp History Week, see this NBC story.