07.09.08

Closing Statements On Department Of Justice Oversight

I thank you, Mr. Attorney General, for appearing before the Committee today.  I am grateful that, at least for today, we did not see a repeat of the anonymous Republican objections that blocked us from holding and completing many important hearings before the July Fourth recess.

We might have made more progress today had we received timely responses from you to questions we sent following our last hearing in January.  We received the Department’s responses only late last week, and responses to letters we sent months ago started pouring in on the eve of this hearing.  I wish it did not take scheduling a hearing to start to get answers from you and the Department. 

In your testimony, Mr. Attorney General, you focused on the upcoming election and on the transition to the next administration and next Attorney General.  That is good.  But with so little time left for this administration and in your tenure at the Department, I wish you were more focused on restoring the Department’s role as protector of the rule of law.  Instead, you seem content to serve as a caretaker for the regime of excessive executive power established by the Bush Administration.

On issues central to the rule of law and American ideals such as the legality of waterboarding and controversial secret memos justifying all manner of excesses, Mr. Attorney General, time and time again, you have avoided answering the Committee’s questions and fulfilling commitments because, in your view, the issue is not "currently before" you.  You have done so again today, finding it not “necessary” to review the controversial and flawed legal opinions written by John Yoo and others at OLC, turning a blind eye to the excesses they have allowed and may continue to allow if they are not withdrawn.

When this Committee last spoke to you on January 30, Senator Durbin asked if you had a chance to read various opinions from OLC.  You said, and I quote, “I think those opinions would be considered principally in light of whether they relate to things that are current or not.  But I will review them.”  That was a commitment to review them.  Today, you have said you have not – and will not.

The job of the Attorney General is not to make decisions on individual cases or controversies like a judge, but to set policy for the Justice Department and the Nation. You have been given an opportunity to start setting things right at the Department after nearly eight years of erosion of our most basic civil rights and civil liberties and restore the rule of law to its place of prominence in American life.  I urge you to make the most of your opportunity in your remaining time in office and will work with you to be successful. 

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