Vice Chairman Leahy Statement On Hearing On FY 18 Funding Request For The U.S. Department Of Justice

Thank you, Chairman Shelby and Ranking Member Shaheen, for the opportunity to make these remarks.

Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, I won’t mince words: You are not the witness we were supposed to hear from today, and you are not the witness who should be sitting behind that table.  That responsibility lies with the Attorney General of the United States.     Attorneys General of the past did not shy away from this Committee’s questions, regardless of the topic.  Attorneys General of the past did not cower at the request of Congress to fulfill its constitutional oversight responsibilities.  And Attorneys General of the past did not send their second-in-command in their stead because the members of this Committee have questions they may not want to answer.  Until now, that is.

And so, with respect Mr. Rosenstein, you are not who I am interested in speaking with or hearing from today.  I do have questions for your superior.  I want to know why he provided false testimony to me and Senator Franken.  I want to know why, if he was recused from the Russia investigation, he played any role in the dismissal of FBI Director Comey.  I want to know how he believes he can credibly lead the Justice Department, for which he has requested $28.3 billion, amid such distressing questions about his actions and his integrity.  Importantly, I believe the Attorney General of the United States – the Nation’s chief law enforcement officer – owes it to the more than 116,000 Justice Department agents, intelligence analysts, attorneys, and support personnel; the roughly one million state, local, and tribal police officers; and staff supporting more than 4,500 local victim assistance programs in every state to justify the budget request of the Department of Justice.

He owes them that courtesy because the President’s budget request for the Justice Department is abysmal.  It cuts the Department’s budget by $643 million from the FY 2017 enacted appropriations level.  The Department’s request is built on unrealistic assumptions and on the backs of crime victims, with a permanent rescission of $1.3 billion from the Crime Victims Fund.  Let me repeat that:  An administration that claims to support crime victims is asking for a permanent rescission of $1.3 billion from the Crime Victims Fund.  How in heaven’s name can you justify that assault on the rights and needs of crime victims?

Ironically, in a budget touted as “tough on crime,” the President cuts funding for FBI operations and investigations by $44 million, and fails to provide the needed funding to move ahead with a new FBI headquarters.  I find these cuts curious, as they come on top of media reports that, prior to the President firing him, former FBI Director James Comey asked the Department for additional resources for the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.  I know I have my own suspicions about why the President may seek cuts to FBI operations and personnel, but the Attorney General should be here to justify them.

Just this week, the Attorney General crowed about how he has law enforcement’s back.  But the Justice Department’s budget slashes $326 million in assistance to state and local law enforcement assistance grants, on which our communities rely to keep our neighborhoods, children and schools safe, ensure crime victims have the tools they need to bring their attackers to justice, and make sure that our tax dollars spent on corrections do not simply fuel a revolving door in and out of prison.  Instead this budget’s lowlights include:

  • More than $70 million cut from Byrne-Justice Assistance Grants, the bread and butter of our local law enforcement agencies;
  • $20 million cut from rape kit backlog reduction grants;
  • $22 million cut from youth mentoring grants that support groups like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and ensure that our children have safe havens to go after school and during summer months while their parents are at work;
  • $30 million cut from school safety grants, which Congress funded in the aftermath of the tragic shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School; and
  • $20 million cut from Second Chance Act grants, which reduce prison recidivism rates.

This budget slashes funding for anti-opioid and heroin initiatives by more than $27 million from FY 2017 levels.  This includes eliminating $10 million for the COPS Anti-Heroin Task Forces, which state and local law enforcement teams in areas worst hit by the opioid epidemic use for investigations and going after street traffickers and networks.  Just this weekend, The Washington Post reported that the opioid epidemic is now pushing up death rates for nearly every group of Americans.  How – when everyone calls this a public health crisis – does the Justice Department justify cutting resources that will help our communities with prevention, education, and treatment?

I am not surprised that the budget before us proposes millions of dollars to hire lawyers to focus on taking private land from hardworking Americans along the southwest border so that the President can build his misguided wall.  I am also not surprised that the Justice Department budget seeks to punish local law enforcement and victims of domestic and sexual violence and other violent crimes by pushing a misguided and misdirected expansion of conditions placed on so-called “sanctuary cities.”  The unbalanced and misplaced “priorities” of this budget makes one thing clear: rather than a “foundation for American greatness,” President Trump and Attorney General Sessions are intent on making our communities less safe, abandoning victims of crime, and villainizing immigrants who contribute to our communities.

Finally Mr. Rosenstein, regardless of the circumstances for your appearance today, I will raise this one point with you.  On May 1, the Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion arguing that the executive branch is not obligated to meet the legitimate oversight requests of individual members of Congress.  It opined that only requests from the chairs of Committees must be met.  This is an affront to the Congress – a co-equal branch of government – and the argument the OLC makes has been roundly rejected on both sides of the aisle.  Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley – with whom I worked as both chair and ranking member on a number of oversight matters – called this opinion “nonsense.”  The Attorney General has the authority, and I believe an obligation, to withdraw that opinion.  This administration may seek to hide many things from the American people.  But this administration should know this:  Today’s committee chairs are tomorrow’s ranking members.  Obstructing congressional oversight will do nothing to advance the interests of the American people.  This opinion should be withdrawn.

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667