WASHINGTON – Attorney General Alberto Gonzales addressed Justice Department employees Friday in an appearance on the internal department television channel, Justice Vision, which can be seen throughout the department and its dvisions. Gonzales spoke for about 10 minutes.
Attorney General Gonzales: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining me today. For many of you, what you know about me is shaped largely by what you read in the newspaper. I wish it weren't this way.
I wish you could instead know me as well as my family and those in my office know me.
If you ask them, they'd tell you that I'm a quiet man. They would tell you how much I admire all of you: the dedicated public servants that serve this great department. And they might also tell you that no one is more troubled than I am over what this department has gone through in the past six months.
I am troubled because the allegations regarding politicization of this historic institution — an institution that stands for and protects the rights of the citizens of the greatest, most free nation on earth — have occurred on my watch.
Now I told Congress. I've told the United States attorney community and other leaders of this department, and I'm here to tell you today, that I'm sorry, and I accept full responsibility.
Simply put, I believe very strongly that there is no place for political consideration in the hiring of our career employees or in the administration of justice.
From my perspective there are two options available in light of these allegations: I could walk away as some have demanded, or I could devote my time, effort and energy to fix the problems.
Since I've never been one to quit, I've decided that the best course of action is to remain here and fix the problems. That is exactly what I am doing.
I want to take a few minutes today to update you on those efforts.
Upon learning of these troubling allegations of improper politicization, we promptly made referrals to the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of the Inspector General. This was the right course of action of the department. And I have complete faith and confidence that their investigations will be thorough, comprehensive and ultimately helpful in rooting out and addressing any wrongdoing that may have occurred.
I want all of you to know, however, that I'm not waiting for the completion, or the results of these investigations to fix these problems.
For example, as you know, I have made a number of critical changes in personnel at the top of the department. The strength of any institution, including one as great as the Department of Justice, lies in its people.
With that principle in mind, I have appointed individuals to serve in critical leadership positions who understand and embrace the independence of our law enforcement mission, and who will ensure that our work and our hiring will never be influenced by improper political considerations.
First, I recently asked Craig Morford to serve as the acting deputy attorney general.
Craig is a career prosecutor with exemplary character and integrity. He has 20 years of experience as a Justice Department prosecutor, serving under the Department's Organized Crime Task Force in the 1980s, and as an AUSA (assistant U.S. attorney) for over a decade, and most recently as an interim United States Attorney in both the Middle District of Tennessee and the Eastern District of Michigan.
Craig is the absolute right person for this critical position at this time, and I am looking forward to working with him to carry out the work of the department.
To do so, Craig and I agree that the department must continue to recruit the best and the brightest lawyers. Therefore I am in the process of providing the deputy attorney general with the authority to detail and hire attorneys that he believes will best fill positions within his division.
Second, I appointed an experienced U.S. attorney (Kevin O'Connor) to serve as my chief of staff. He in turn has gone in and continues to recruit experienced career prosecutors to work in my office and advise me on legal and personnel matters.
Third, I appointed as director the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, a highly respected career prosecutor (Kenneth Melson) who has spent nearly 25 years working in a U.S. attorney's office. Most of that time, serving as the first assistant.
I will continue to ensure that my staff and those in other senior positions within the department have the appropriate experience and judgment so that previous mistakes will not be repeated.
I'd also like to tell you about some of the policy changes that are being made.
Without waiting for the results of the OIG and the OPR investigations, I have asked my staff to examine and, if necessary, revise any hiring procedures that may have contributed to allegations of improper politicization.
For example, in April we revised the process by which immigration judges are appointed. These provisions restore the significant role of career employees within EOIR (Executive Office of Immigration Review), and the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge.
We also recently changed the hiring process for the honors program and summer law intern's program. These changes, which were made working through the Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management, also formalize the role of career employees in the hiring process.
Additionally, I directed the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys to reaffirm DOJ policy applicable to the vetting process for the hiring of AUSAs by interim or acting United States Attorneys.
In conjunction with this, I've instructed the Executive Office to ensure that this vetting process remains within the office and not within political appointees in the senior management offices.
And in the Civil Rights Division we recently reminded each of the attorneys within that section that basing employment and personnel decisions on impermissible factors such as political affiliation will not be tolerated.
Each of the actions I have taken today are designed to safeguard the critical work of this department. Each is also intended to reinforce the public's confidence in the work and personnel of our department.
The last thing that I want to address today is the importance of communication.
In the wake of recent events, I have learned that there is a real need to improve communications with our U.S. attorneys and other components. And to that end, I have taken a number of steps.
In the past few months, I have met or spoken with all of our U.S. attorneys. I have expressed my regrets over how the dismissals of their colleagues were handled, accepted responsibility for that flawed process, and made a commitment to each of them that I or the deputy attorney general will give any U.S. attorney general whose performance is questioned notice of such concern as well as the opportunity to address them before any decision is made concerning their future.
I've conducted numerous small meetings, both with U.S. attorneys and with other DOJ components. The purpose of these meetings is to get direct feedback about the work of the department as well as helpful suggestions for improvement.
Some of the suggestions I have received at these meetings were the basis of the actions I've described here today.
I have asked the Attorney General's Advisory Committee for specific advice to further improve communications. And I remain interested in additional suggestions that any of you may have to improve our internal communication and the way the department functions overall.
My hope today is to reassure all of you that my efforts to reach out to listen and to implement change have already begun. They have been going on for months and they will continue.
I know you will remain focused on fulfilling your mission of defending our country from terrorists, and protecting our communities from violent criminals, gangs and predators.
I'm here to let you know that reinforcing public confidence in this mission and in our department will be one of my top priorities as attorney general for the remainder of my term.
I will also be working on my relationship with all of you. You should expect to continue to see me in the hallways, in the conference rooms of U.S. attorneys' offices, in the AAG's office suites, and in the buildings of our law enforcement agencies.
I want this department to know me better as a person, and I will engage you all in advising me on what's best for the delivery of justice.
Today I am making a personal commitment to all Justice employees. You know me primarily as a public figure, an appointee of the president, a photo in the newspaper. But I am also a public servant who is committed to the cause of justice.
And that is why I have taken affirmative steps to address each of the areas of concern. It is why I have put in place an experienced team. And I am asking for your help and input to further enhance the public confidence in this tremendous institution.
I look forward to working with you as we continue to pursue the goals and priorities of this department.
Thank you for your service. May God continue to bless you, your families, and your work on behalf of the cause of justice.