CQ Transcripts Wire
Friday, January 16, 2009 11:58 AM
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT.): Just so that everybody understands, we are in the historic Senate Caucus Room. Normally, we would have been in a different room, but there are a number of these hearings going on. And there are certainly more people than we normally see in the hearings.
Lately, there seem to be a number of demonstrations in hearings. I just want everybody to understand the ground rules. I want everybody to be able to watch this hearing. I want them to be able to watch it comfortably. If people stand up and block the view of those behind them, I would direct the officers to remove the people who are blocking the view.
Now, I'll take this position whether people are standing up in demonstration of a position for or against one I might hold or for or against one Senator Specter might hold or any other senator.
I'm sure that's not going to be necessary. I'm sure everybody's going to show appropriate amount of decorum. But that's what we -- that is what we expect and that is was we'll have.
So with that, I welcome everybody here. The election of Barack Obama and Joe Biden and the president- elect's selection of Eric Holder, Jr. to be attorney general for the United States provides an historic opportunity for the country to move past the partisanship of the past decades.
We can make a real difference if we come together to solve the nation's problems and protect against serious threats and meet the challenges of our times.
Let's honor the wishes of the American people who, in November, broke through debilitating divisions to join together in record numbers. Let us acknowledge that our inspirational new president- elect has move the forward promptly to assemble an extraordinarily well-qualified and diverse group of Cabinet officers and advisers. Let's us move away from any kind of partisanship to serve the common good.
It was seven score and 4 years ago that this nation answered the fundamental question President Lincoln posed in his Gettysburg Address. The world learned that liberty, equality, and democracy could serve as the foundation for this great and united nation. And we Americans have cause and occasion to reflect during the next several days about our great country.
The inauguration of our new president is Tuesday. Monday is a holiday the country has set aside to celebrate and rededicate ourselves to the cause of freedom and equality. Today is the anniversary of the birthday of the extraordinary man for whom that holiday is named.
And with this hearing, we take another step up the path for the time Dr. King foresaw when people are judged by the content of their character.
Eric Holder has the character to serve as the attorney general of the United States of America. He passes any fair confirmation standard. His record of public serve has earned him strong support from law enforcement organizations, civil rights groups, victims rights advocates, former members of the administration of President Reagan -- the president who first nominated him as a judge -- and from those of President Bush and many others.
This week, the Justice Department's inspector general released a report about the shameful political interference in the civil rights division of the Justice Department during the past few years. America's diversity, when drawn together, is a source of our nation's strength and resilience. Americans have to be able to trust their Justice Department.
That trust can never be squandered or taken for granted. We need leaders who are prepared to take up the oars of a Justice Department whose dedicated law enforcement professionals have been misused and demoralized.
Eric Holder is just such a leader. Before the November election, I co-authored an article with my friend, the ranking member, in which we wrote the attorney general's duty is to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law not to circumvent them. The president of the American people are best served by the attorney general who gives sound advice and takes responsible action rather than one who develops legalistic loopholes to serve the partisan ends of a particular administration.
We wrote that article addressed to both John McCain and Barack Obama. We wrote it before we knew who was going to be president. We wrote it so the next president might adhere to our advice. And I have every confidence that Eric Holder is the person we described.
LEAHY: The career professionals and those of us who have worked for years with the career professional at the Department of Justice, most of them we have no idea what their political background is. We just know how good they are.
But they reacted with delight when Eric Holder was designated by President-elect Obama because they, too, know him well. They know him from his 12 years as an anti-corruption prosecutor at the public integrity section, from his time as a U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, from his tenure as a judge, and from his service as the deputy attorney John.
Now, I would hope that we'd have a prompt confirmation so we can restore morale and purpose throughout the Justice Department. It's important the Justice Department has its senior leadership in place without delay.
The attorney general is the top law enforcement officer in the country. He's a key member of the national security team. We've seen billions of dollars devoted to bailouts in the last few months. We need to ensure that those resources are not diverted by fraud or deceit. We need the Justice Department to be at its best.
And I have been encouraged by the initial reaction of many Republicans, including some serving on this committee, when Mr. Holder's name was reported as a likely nominee and when he was designated by the president-elect. I commended their bipartisanship (inaudible) do one of the best friends I've ever had in the Senate, Senator John Warner who introduced Mr. Holder to the committee.
The responsibilities of the attorney general of the United States are too important to have this appointment delayed by partisan bickering. We've known and worked with Mr. Holder for more than 20 years. We knew him when he was nominated by President Reagan, and we confirmed him. We knew him when he was nominated by President Clinton, and we confirmed him. Three times confirmed by the Senate to important positions.
His record of public service, his integrity, his experience, his commitment to the rule of law merit our respect. We need an attorney general, as Robert Jackson said 68 years ago, who serves the law and not factional purposes, who approaches this task with humility. That's the kind of man Eric Holder is, the kind of prosecutor Eric Holder always was, and the kind of attorney general he will be.
The next attorney general will understand our moral and legal obligation to protect the fundamental rights of all Americans, to respect the human rights of all people.
This is part of the change we need and the change the American people voted for. When he designated Mr. Holder, President-elect Obama said let me be clear, the attorney general serves the American people and I have every expectation that Eric will protect our people, uphold the public trust, and adhere to our Constitution.
The next president understands the role of the attorney general of the United States. And I have no doubt that Mr. Holder understands what's required of the attorney general. His experience, the lessons he has learned will serve him and the American people well.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PENN.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Next to the president of the United States, there is no federal officer more important than the attorney general. The attorney general is different from any other Cabinet officer because Cabinet officers ordinarily carry out the policies of the president. But the attorney general, has an independent duty to the people and to uphold the rule of law.
The Constitution calls for the United States Senate to advise and consent. And I agree with the chairman about the necessity to help President-elect Obama tackle the problems of enormous difficulties which this nation faces. There is provided, in the Constitution, separation of power and checks and balances so that it is the duty of the United States Senate to exercise its responsibilities and to make an appropriate inquiry.
Independence is a very important item. Harry Daugherty was attorney general during the Teapot Dome scandals. So I mention Attorney General Daugherty because, coming in, I took a look at the long list of hearings for seatings which have been held in this room. One of them was Teapot Dome. Another was the sinking of the Lusitania, the McClellan committee, Iran-Contra, many, many hearings.
There has been a question raised as to whether the issues when I have posed for Mr. Holder are political in nature. I have not hesitated to oppose prominent members of my own party asking pointed questions which is the constitutional responsibility of a senator and making an independent judgment and voting against them when I thought it was warranted. And one of those hearings was held right here in this room.
Almost every major newspaper in the country has comment about the importance of questioning Mr. Holder. And as I said on the floor, I have an open mind but I think there are important questions to be asked and upon the questions to be answered.
The editorials have commented about the need for the questioning of Mr. Holder based upon some of the factors in his background. There's no doubt he comes with an excellent resume, but there are questions nonetheless. So says the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Philadelphia Enquirer, the Rocky Mountain News, and many other newspapers across the country.
The basic issue of national security is, perhaps, the attorney general's most important responsibility to protect the American people. And I think we need to know how Mr. Holder is going to approach that job. What does he think about the Patriot Act? What does he think about the interrogation techniques?
There's a big difference between what is faced by those who are following the Army Field Manual compared to what the FBI does compared to what the CIA does. There are very different lines of questioning and I saw that in the 104th Congress when I chaired the Intelligence Committee.
SPECTER: I voted against water boarding. It's torture. And I took the lead to the Senate floor in fighting for habeas corpus. And I opposed President Bush's signing statements. So I have no hesitancy to stand up on those issues.
But there's a very important question of balance. And we want to find out how Mr. Holder is going to approach those issues.
We have major issues of violent crime in this country. Career criminals have to be treated one way. I want to know what he has in mind about realistic rehabilitation, to try to take first offenders -- and especially juveniles -- out of the recidivist crime cycle.
We have to know where he stands on anti-trust. We need to know what he will do on the prosecution of white collar crime.
There have been a spate of fines, which look heavy on their surface, $1 million. But contrasted with the billions involved in the fraud, it's insufficient. I want to know how tough he's going to be along that line, especially with what we've seen with corporate fraud leading to the tremendous financial problems this country has today.
At the same time, there has to be a balance of right to counsel. Mr. Holder authored in 1999, the memorandum which provides that the Department of Justice will go easy on a corporation, if they will cooperate where individual constitutional privileges are involved. That's a matter which has to be inquired into, where he stands under the anti-trust laws.
All of these matters, I think, are appropriate for inquiry. And I look forward to an opportunity to discuss them with the nominee.
One additional comment. And I want to read this, because I want to get it right. I ordinarily don't read, but I will on this.
Aside from the substance of Mr. Holder's qualifications, there is a serious issue on senators' minority rights and the inadequacy of our opportunity for preparation. On this I speak for the Republican Senatorial Caucus. Ordinarily, I speak only for myself. But today, I speak for the caucus.
In light of Mr. Holder's extensive record -- and we looked at some 86 boxes at one stage -- there has been insufficient time for the examination of those records. On the Roberts and Alito confirmations, the minority was consulted and accorded the time they requested on scheduling. That was not done here. The chairman declined to co-sign the letter requesting records from the Clinton Library. With only my signature representing 40-plus Republican senators, my request was treated as any other citizen's request under the Freedom of Information Act, and the records have not been obtained.
When the minority previously had a dozen witnesses under similar circumstances, we got three. When two witnesses, Ms. Mary Jo White and Mr. Roger Adams, refused to appear, our requests for subpoenas were denied.
Realizing the public's understandable disdain for Washington's political bickering, we have sought to temper these objections. And I retain the cordial relationship with the chairman, with whom I've worked very closely for many years, but feel constrained to recite them here briefly for the record.
I thank the chairman.
LEAHY: Well, I thank my good friend from Pennsylvania. I would note that, I think the last hearing for Attorney General Mukasey was -- I think we did it in four weeks. I do recall the deputy Republican leader being critical it took four weeks. And he said something about three weeks should have been enough. I believe we had a recess of some sort in between there.
We did it in four weeks. They said that wasn't really fast enough. This has been -- Mr. Holder was -- we were told by the Obama team in November, that he was going to be the nominee. We had November and December, and now we're into January.
I did postpone it by an extra week from the time. I did say at the time that made it -- it went several weeks beyond what the Republican leader had said it should take for an attorney general.
Now, this is not a lifetime position, either, as our Supreme Court justices. But be that as it may, I think adequate time has been given.
Certainly, questions -- I understand what the distinguished ranking member has said about his opposition to waterboarding. As we know, Attorney General Mukasey would not declare that as being torture. Every Republican voted for him, nonetheless. But that's why you ask the questions, and we wanted (ph) the questions.
One of the first people to introduce is a distinguished colleague, John Warner. He is the former senior senator from Virginia. He served here for 30 years.
I consider it my privilege to have served all those 30 years with him. We've traveled together around the world. We worked together. We have done so many significant pieces of bipartisan legislation together. He set the tone and tenor of what it should be.
I have referred to him over the years as my senator when I'm away from home and spending time in the home in Virginia. I consider him a senator's senator.
Senator Warner, please go ahead.
FORMER SENATOR JOHN WARNER (R-VA.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman and distinguished ranking member, and to each of my colleagues.
I am deeply humbled by this opportunity to appear this morning and participate in what I regard, and I think you regard, as one of the most solemn responsibilities of the United States Senate, fulfilling our constitutional responsibility of advice and consent.
I've been privileged through these 30 years in the United States Senate to know each of you and to work with each of you, and to form my own opinion that each of you will fairly and objectively and conscientiously approach this solemn duty of advice and consent for this historic nomination of Eric Holder to be the chief law enforcement officer of our nation, the attorney general of the United States of America.
WARNER: I have known Mr. Holder for a number of years. We both started our careers basically as prosecutors, although separated by at least 20-some-odd years, two decades.
And we approached our duties in life based upon the foundations that we were taught and learned in the role as prosecutors, both here in the nation's capital.
So, I've joined this morning out of friendship. But also, I weighed very heavily coming before the Senate again, so soon after my retirement. But I felt that I wanted to be among those all across this nation who are working for a bipartisan approach, to support the president-elect in facing what is, I think each of us believe, is the most complicated and challenging set of issues that ever faced a president.
Behind me sits Eric Holder, and the president-elect has exercised his judgment that this is the individual whom he deems best qualified from the hundreds of thousands of lawyers serving in the United States, the best qualified to become the attorney general of the United States.
I'm also privileged to be joined this morning by a very good friend, Eleanor Holmes Norton. We have worked together on behalf of the Greater Capitol Region these many years. And I am privileged to say that we have had some accomplishments through these years.
Quickly, Mr. President, the public record has a complete dossier on this nominee. But given that people in every corner of the United States today are following this hearing, this very important hearing, I'd like, with the permission of the chair and ranking member, to briefly summarize how this distinguished American got from his home in the greater environment of New York City and a household which he probably classifies as middle class, to become the nominee for attorney general of the United States. It's truly remarkable.
Fortunately, the elders in his household, his parents and others, put great emphasis on education. Consequently, he excelled in public schools, and then went on, had the good fortune to get his undergraduate degree and his law degree from Columbia University.
And then, rather than go into a top law firm, and perhaps a lucrative opportunity, he -- as we say in the trial profession -- he plunged into the cauldron of the courtroom to start his career, arguing case after case before the juries and the judges.
Prosecution is a tough way to enter the profession, but both of us chose this course.
He was a federal prosecutor in the public integrity section of the U.S. Department of Justice. There he tried many cases and prosecuted successfully widely heralded public corruption cases against officials from both -- and I emphasize "both" -- political parties, as recognized by the chairman and the ranking member in their opening statements.
Thereafter, Eric was appointed a D.C. superior court judge by President Ronald Reagan, recognizing this man's impartiality and his bipartisan approach to the rule of law. We always must come back that the rule of law is the fundamental foundation of this great nation of ours.
He performed his duties on the bench with distinction, won the accolades of both the bench and the bar, and then was appointed the United States attorney for the District of Columbia, in 1993.
Having been a member of that office, as I said, two decades before, I wish to point out that the United States attorney for the District of Columbia has a very wide range of jurisdiction. And much of it relates to common law crime, unlike other U.S. attorneys.
He performed that subject and that responsibility from 1993 to '97. From '97 to 2001, he served as deputy attorney general of the United States, the critically important number two job at the Department of Justice. And there, he gained invaluable experience for his current nomination, and developed a bipartisan reputation in making difficult and tough decisions.
And on that point, I've had an opportunity in preparing for this hearing to visit with the nominee and many, many colleague who have known him and came up through the similar chairs of responsibility in the Department of Justice.
Mr. Chairman, Eric Holder would be the first to say that his career was marked by certain misjudgments. He freely acknowledges that. I doubt if there's one of us in this room, particularly those of us who have been prosecutors, who haven't looked back on our careers and recognized that we've made misjudgments.
But the key to this man is that he learned from those experiences, and learned in such a way that those misjudgments will not be repeated.
From 2001 to the present, he practiced law as a partner in the prestigious firm here in Washington, D.C., the firm Covington and Burling, where he experienced in our criminal justice system the other side, namely, that of counsel to those who have the misfortune to fall afoul of the law.
He also represented major companies, executives in a wide variety of complex litigation. That's experience that he will find invaluable, if confirmed by the Senate in this new position.
We both readily acknowledge, Eric Holder and I, that we achieved our goals in life largely by learning from career public servants with whom we had the privilege to serve -- the clerks, the judges, the justices at all levels of our courts, our fellow prosecutors, and the vast system of careerists that serve America to provide for the rule of the law and the respect we have for the Constitution.
WARNER: I humbly acknowledge my gratitude for having received that same benefit that he did because the Department of Justice is known, perhaps more so than any other department save the Department of Defense, for a cadre of careerists who put the rule of law and their oath to the Constitution foremost in discharging their responsibilities.
I mentioned that having had that same experience, I had the opportunity in later life when I was privileged to be here in the Senate working in association with my good colleague here to recognize the judge, a circuit federal circuit judge in the nation's capital, for whom I served as a law clerk, Judge E. Barrett Prettyman, and naming the courthouse for him, and later joining again with my colleague to my left to name the next addition to the federal courthouse for a man named William Bryant.
Now, William Bryant was a prosecutor, in a sense a career one, a defense counsel, and as a young man in the prosecutor's office, I learned more from William Bryant as to how to try a case and the vagaries of appearing before the jury and the trial judges than from any law professor in my career.
So that was the way I acknowledged the careerists. Our distinguished nominee in his opening statement will do likewise. But it is essential -- and this nominee will do that -- it is essential to protect those careers in the operations and functions they have in the Department of Justice from the always present political pressures that exist in every single corner of the nation's capital and the government. He will protect them so that they can perform their duties.
He will be the principal adviser to the president, and much has been said in the opening statements by both of my distinguished colleagues, chairman and ranking member, about the importance of the rule of law and independence.
And I went back and read the Congressional Record, Senator Specter, where you delivered quite an oration here on the sixth of January this year. And in it you said the following: "The attorney general is unlike any other cabinet officer whose duty is to carry out the president's policy. The attorney general has the corollary independent responsibility" -- I repeat "independent responsibility" -- "to the people to uphold the rule of law."
Then joining the distinguished chairman, you wrote the following, the two of you: "The attorney general's duty is to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law, not to circumvent them. The president and the American people are best served by an attorney general who gives sound advice and takes responsible action."
That is the nominee, in my judgment.
I was so privileged to join so many distinguished lawyers whom I've known and served with who have come forth, unsolicited, largely Republican in background, who have served as deputy attorney general, as prosecutors from all over the country, to lend our support to this important hearing. I would hope that, and ask if I might put in as a part of my...
LEAHY: Without objection, they'll be part of the record.
WARNER: ... some of those exceptional letters. But I point out, again, my pride to have joined with them, most of them having far more distinguished legal careers than I have.
But it's interesting, Mr. Chairman, as I read those letters, they had a common theme in describing this nominee. It was in several of the letters. It was very simple but very profound. And it's stated as follows, and I quote them: "Eric Holder is a good man." Now, that says a lot.
I further note that our forty-first president, George Herbert Walker Bush, in a public appearance on television when asked about the president, he said, I wish the new president well. And then his son, our current president, likewise, has wished this president well.
This president has made a choice. This president has chosen an individual that's going to come before you momentarily in advise and consent. It's the gravity of the times that gives rise to the unprecedented level of bipartisanship that accompanies all stages of formation of this new administration and this historic inauguration to be next week.
I thank you.
LEAHY: Thank you, Senator Warner.
You and I have sat on the inaugural stand for inaugurations for both Democrats and Republicans as president. And I think we have both wished whoever, whichever party they were from, wished them well.
Congresswoman Norton, I want to recognize you. You were recently elected by the people of the District of Columbia to your eleventh consecutive term in the House of Representatives. And, please, Congresswoman Norton, go ahead.
DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D-D.C.): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
And unrelated to my own testimony, I've been asked by the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus to request that her letter for the caucus in support of Mr. Holden be admitted into the record. LEAHY: I thank you. It will be. Senator Feinstein had already sent that letter and asked that it be part of the record. I've read the letter. It definitely will be part of the record.
NORTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, it is a particular pleasure to appear before you this morning with my good friend whom I miss already. The fact that John Warner, who enjoys such a sterling reputation in this body, has stood for Eric Holder, I think, speaks volumes about Mr. Holder's experience and character.
Considering your time restraints, I'm going to read my thoughts this morning, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Specter.
NORTON: I'm pleased to introduce Eric Holder, a longtime resident of the District of Columbia. But my few words this morning have little in common with the predictable introductions of home state senators and others.
I did not know Eric Holder until he competed for the post of United States attorney for the District of Columbia. I came to know him in much the same way that you will know him after today's hearing.
Because the district has the same federal officials as the states but no senators, President Bill Clinton granted me the courtesy to recommend the U.S. attorney district court judges and the U.S. marshal.
In the district's two centuries as the nation's capital, residents have had to live with the decisions of these important federal officials while having no way to affect their appointments. I was determined to vindicate the president's courtesy by the transparency and the competitiveness of the process and the excellence of the candidates recommended.
I appointed a commission of distinguished lawyers and other private citizens, named as chair Pauline Schneider, a past president of the District of Columbia Bar, and charged the commission to search widely for candidates and to thoroughly investigate and interview them and send me three candidates for each post.
I then made my recommendations to the president for each post after doing my own due diligence and interviewing each of the three candidates.
Some may think that Washington has more lawyers than people with good sense. But lawyers in this town are among the most able in the United States. The commission soon heard from some of the best of the lot.
Eric Holder's distinguished biography is before you. Without reiterating the many features of the academic and legal background that recommend his appointment, what particularly stood out for us were the uniformly excellent reports concerning his work in the Justice Department's first Public Integrity Section; his nomination by President Ronald Reagan to the D.C. Superior Court, whose appointments as Article I judges are made by the president, and the high praise for his service there; the outstanding evaluations of his extensive and varied criminal and civil trial experience; and his unimpeachable character and collegiality, as reported by all who had worked with Eric Holder.
Perhaps the best indication of Eric's excellence, however, is that in a very competitive pool of the best and the brightest, he rose to the top like cream in rich milk.
Besides demonstrating his own excellence, however, Eric carried an unusual burden of which he was unaware. More than usual, the quality of the commission's recommendations for U.S. attorney and for judges was of pathbreaking importance. We knew that these appointments were without precedent in the city's history. Even small differences in quality mattered if the point was not only to get the best candidates but to demonstrate that this city could do so.
Eric Holder created a new gold standard for the position of United States attorney for the District of Columbia. The republican U.S. attorneys who followed him adopted his innovations localizing the district's part of his jurisdiction by, for example, placing assistant U.S. attorneys in communities for the very first time while strenuously carrying forward significant federal prosecutions.
Eric wore two very different high-profile hats at the same time with remarkable skill. He more than vindicated the challenge he was given and our confidence in him.
Eric Holder may be the first person to work his way up from career trial attorney in the Department of Justice to become the United States attorney general. Imagine the effect his appointment will have on the demoralized Department of Justice staff.
If experience at every level of the department and the record of excelling in everything you have ever done matters to this committee, Eric Holder is unusually well qualified to become our attorney general.
I am pleased and proud to recommend him to you without reservation.
LEAHY: Well, congresswoman, you and I have served together for over 20 years, and I worked closely with you on a number of things. And that is high praise indeed, and I appreciate it.
Senator Warner, I know you and the congresswoman have many other places to go. Thank you for taking the time here.
We'll rearrange the dais a little bit, and give Mr. Holder a chance.
Mr. Holder, will you please stand and raise your right hand.
Do you affirm or swear that the testimony you are about to give before this committee be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
ERIC HOLDER: I do.
LEAHY: Thank you.
Please be seated.
I'm never sure whether to address you as Mr. Holder or Judge Holder, Deputy Attorney General Holder. But Mr. Holder, please go ahead and give your opening statement.
First, before you do, though, would you introduce the members -- before we set the clock, introduce the members of your family? I've already met them, but so all the members of the committee can see them here.
HOLDER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Seated behind me and right behind me is my wife, Dr. Sharon Malone. The beautiful woman to her left is my mother, Miriam Holder. The series of beautiful young women here is my daughter, Maya Holder, Brooke Holder. My little guy there, that's Eric Holder III, born on the same day as my father. He was going to have a different name, but we decided since he was born on my dad's birthday, his last birthday, that that had to be his name. So he's not named after me; he's named after my dad. That's my brother, William Holder, his wife, Deborah (ph) Holder, my niece, Amanda Holder.
LEAHY: Thank you all. And I know you have many, many friends. I see former FBI director Louis Freed in the front row and I see so many others. Please, Mr. Holder, go ahead.
HOLDER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Specter, and members of the Judiciary Committee. I am deeply honored to appear before you today.
In five days, just a short distance from his historic room, the next president of the United States will take the oath of office. He will swear to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
I have been asked by him to serve as attorney general, the Cabinet officer who is the guardian of that revered document. I feel the full weight of this responsibility. If confirmed by the Senate, I pledge to you and to my fellow citizens that I will faithfully execute my duties as attorney general of the United States of America. I will do so by adhering to the precepts and principles of the Constitution. And I will do so in a fair, just, and independent manner. This is the fourth time I have come before the Senate for confirmation to a position in law enforcement. I served almost 30 years as a prosecutor, judge, and senior official within the Department of Justice.
President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden asked me to assume this responsibility because they know I will fight terrorism with every available tool at my disposal and reinvigorate the department's traditional missions of protecting public safety and safeguarding our precious civil rights.
I accept their trust in me and, with your support, I intend to lead an agency that is strong, independent, and worthy of the name the Department of Justice. Now, I could not have arrived at this moment without the sacrifice and example of so many others.
I begin, of course, by recognizing the support of my family who you've just met. My wife Sharon, a respected professional in her own right, has put up with a lot over the years because of my demanding work. And she has done so with the love and grace that characterizes all that she does.
Thank you, sweetheart.
My wife is a tremendously talented physician. But the best example of her skills and qualities as a person are on display not in her doctor's office but in our home in the form of our three children. They make our lives infinitely richer, and I thank them for their love and patience.
It wasn't until I was a parent myself that I truly appreciated all that my parents did for me. My father, only 12 years old when he came to this country from Barbados, worked hard throughout his life to teach my brother and me about the promise of America. He and my mother made sure that we never wasted the opportunities presented to us especially in education in the excellent New York City public school system.
My brother grew up to be a Port Authority police officer and a successful businessman. And I grew up to arrive at this humbling moment. I'm glad my mother is here to see had I day. I know my father would be proud.
In addition to my family, there are others who have inspired and guided me. Sitting here today, the very day that civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, would have celebrated his 80th birthday, I acknowledge the debt that I owe him and thousands of other Americans, black and white, who fought and died to break the back of segregation.
Dr. King devoted himself to breathing life into our Constitution. I feel privileged just to stand in his shadow and hope that, as attorney general, I can honor his legacy.
Now, one of those who served on the front lines of the struggle for equality was my late sister-in-law, Vivian Malone Jones, who integrated University of Alabama in 1963. In an atmosphere of hate almost unimaginable to us today, she and fellow student James Hood faced down Governor George Wallace and in the presence of then deputy attorney general, Nicholas Katzenbach, they enrolled in that great university.
The very next day, NAACP leader, Medgar Evers, was gunned down in his driveway in Mississippi. But Vivian never considered backing down. She went to class despite the ever-present danger late saying simply that she decided not to show any fear. She never did throughout her too-short life.
In a career in public service that began the civil rights division in the Department of Justice and ended as an advocate for environmental justice, she showed me the meaning of courage and perseverance.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the thousands of career employees at the Department of Justice. They have been my teachers, my colleagues, and my friends. When I first joined the department's public integrity section in 1976, they showed me what it meant to serve the people.
When I was the United States attorney in the District of Columbia, they worked beside me to fight drug crimes, drug trafficking, and public corruption. And when I was deputy attorney general of the United States, they were my troops in the daily battle for justice.
These career professionals are not only the backbone of the Department of Justice, they are its soul. If I am confirmed as attorney general, I will listen to them, respect them, and make them proud of the vital goals we will pursue together.
In fact, if I have the honor of becoming attorney general, I will pursue a very specific set of goals. First, I will work to strengthen the activities of the federal government and protect the American people from terrorism. Nothing I do is more important. I will use every available tactic to defeat our adversaries, and I will do so within the letter and the spirit of the Constitution.
Adherence to the rule of law strengthens security by depriving terrorist organizations of their prime recruiting tools. America must remain a beacon to the world. We will lead by strength. We will lead by wisdom. And we will lead by example.
Second, I will work to restore the credibility of a department badly shaken by allegations of improper political interference. Law enforcement decisions and personnel actions must be untainted by partisanship.
Under my stewardship, the Department of Justice will serve justice not the fleeting interests of any political party.
Attorney General Mike Mukasey and Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip have done much to stabilize the department and restore morale. For that, Judges Mukasey and Filip deserve the gratitude of the American people, and they have my personal gratitude and thanks. But there is more work to do.
Third, I will reinvigorate the traditional missions of the Justice Department. Without ever relaxing our guard in the fight against global terrorism, the department must also embrace the historic role in fighting crime that it has, in protecting civil rights, preserving the environment, and ensuring fairness in the marketplace.
To that end, the Justice Department must wage an aggressive effort against financial fraud and market manipulation. As taxpayers are asked to rescue large segments of our economy, they also have a right to demand accountability for wrongdoing that only the Department of Justice can provide.
At the same time, we must rededicate ourselves to the fight against violent crime which tears at the fabric of our neighborhoods.
The Justice Department must also defend the civil rights of every American. In the last eight years, vital federal laws designed to protect rights in the workplace, the housing market, and the voting booth have languished. Improper political hiring has undermined this important mission. That must change. And I intend to make this a priority as attorney general.
The Department of Justice must also protect American consumers. We need smart anti-trust enforcement to prevent and punish unlawful conduct that hurts markets, excludes competition, and harms consumer welfare. The Justice Department shall also reinvigorate its efforts to protect the public in areas such as food and drug safety and consumer product safety.
And we must work actively with the EPA and other agencies to protect our environment.
In all of this, I hope to establish a full partnership with this committee and with Congress as a whole. The checks and balances in our Constitution establish a healthy tension among the three branches as each ensures that the other do not overstep their boundaries. But too often in recent years, that natural tension has expressed itself in unhealthy hostility.
President-elect Obama and I respect Congress and we respect the federal judiciary. We will carry out our constitutional duties within the framework set forth by the founders and with the humility to recognize that congressional oversight and judicial review are necessary. They are beneficial attributes of our system and of our government.
In particular, I know how much wisdom resides in this committee from your collective decades of service in government. And I'll be sure to draw upon it.
The years I spent in government taught me a lot. As a public corruption prosecutor, I took on powerful interests to ensure that citizens receive the honest services of the people who serve them. As a judge, I used the awesome power I had to deprive criminals of their liberty, a power that weighs heavily on anyone who exercises it.
And as a high-ranking official in the Department of Justice, I faced a series of complex, time-sensitive, prosecutorial, and administrative decisions every time I stepped inside the building.
Now, my decisions were not always perfect. I made mistakes. I hope that enough of my decisions were correct to justify the gratifying support that I have received from colleagues in law enforcement in recent weeks. But with the benefit of hindsight, I can see my errors clearly and I can tell you how I learned from them.
I can also assure you that I will bring to the office the principle that has guided my career. That the Department of Justice, first and foremost, represents the people of the United States not any one president, not any political party, but the people of this great country.
I learned that principle in my first days at the department when I sent corrupt public officials from both parties to jail. It guided my work as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia when I prosecuted one of the most powerful members of my own party at the very time he held in his hands a top legislative initiative of my own president.
And it guided my service as deputy attorney general when I recommended independent counsel investigations not just of members of the Cabinet but of the very president who appointed me and in whose administration I proudly served.
None of those calls was easy, but I made them because I believe they were the right decisions under the law. If confirmed as attorney general, I pledge to you that the same principle will guide my service and inform every decision that I make.
I have spent most of my career at the Department of Justice and I cherish it as an institution. Its history, its spirit, its people, and its sense of integrity are unmatched within the federal government. If I have the honor of serving as attorney general, I will uphold the trust that you have placed in me.
I will do so by ensuring the department is an instrument of our great Constitution but more than that, the servant of the American people.
Thank you very much.