Senator Grassley released a statement today on the failure of the DOJ to respond to his inquiries in a timely manner. At the end of the statement, he tells Attorney General Holder that he will openly hold up the nominations of future DOJ appointees until his questions are answered, on Gerald Walpin and other matters. Here’s the statement:
Prepared Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Oversight hearing on the U.S. Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Chairman Leahy, thank you for calling this hearing today on oversight of the Department of Justice. I appreciate you holding these oversight hearings to keep an open dialogue between the department and the committee. I also appreciate Attorney General Holder appearing today. Everyone on the committee knows that oversight is important to me and I’ve repeatedly asked tough questions of the department, regardless of who’s sitting in the White House. While my duties as the Ranking Member of the Finance Committee will keep me away from today’s hearing, I will submit this prepared statement and some questions for the record (QFRs) for Attorney General Holder.
First, I am requesting information from Attorney General Holder about the role the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California—and the department—had in referring allegations of misconduct by Inspector General Gerald Walpin, the Inspector General for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE). Specifically, I want to know whether department regulations require a U.S. Attorney to obtain prior approval of any allegations of misconduct by non-department government officials prior to a referral for investigation or sanction. If there are regulations, I want to know if they were followed in this instance by the acting-U.S. Attorney and who at the department knew of and who approved the allegations of misconduct prior to the referral.
I also want to ask the Attorney General about a letter I sent him about the department’s implementation of recommendations issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) earlier this year in a report about cooperation between the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The GAO report made specific recommendations for both agencies, including: (1) DOJ and DHS rework existing memorandums of understanding (MOUs) to clarify their jurisdiction in counternarcotics investigations (2) DOJ and DHS develop a more efficient cross-designation procedure for counternarcotics agents, and (3) increase ICE participation at DOJ run fusion centers.
As GAO noted, these “long-standing jurisdictional disputes have led to conflicts between DEA and ICE, with the potential for duplicating investigative efforts and compromising officer safety.” It is my understanding the departments are close to an agreement, but that it is not yet finalized. If and when that agreement is complete, I expect all the recommendations GAO made to be fully implemented. Failure to implement all of these recommendations increases the risk to federal law enforcement agents and our ability to combat the flow of illegal narcotics. I want to see leadership from Attorney General Holder and Secretary Napolitano to fix this problem immediately.
Finally, I want to point out my serious concerns with the department’s continued failure to respond in a prompt manner to letters and other inquiries from members of the Judiciary Committee. During the last three oversight hearings—with the department and FBI—I’ve started off my questions with a request for an explanation as to why I have not received answers to QFRs from both the FBI and the department. I asked FBI Director Mueller at the March FBI Oversight hearing why the FBI has questions outstanding from the March 2008 and September 2008 hearings. Director Mueller stated that the FBI had answered the questions and provided them to the department for approval. He added that those responses were forwarded by the FBI to the department by December of 2008, some as early as June 2008. It has now been well over a year since those first QFRs were sent to the department by the FBI.
I also have a number of letters that have gone unanswered by the department. I say unanswered because I’ve received a response to some of the letters and believe they fail to answer the questions asked. In fact, I presented a full binder of outstanding letters and document requests I’ve made to the department and its subordinate agencies to Mr. Holder when he was making the rounds during his nomination. I told Mr. Holder that he may want to clean up these outstanding requests from by the last administration so the new administration could start fresh. So far, the responses I’ve received to those letters are insufficient and in some cases fail to answer the questions.
I find this unacceptable and contrary to the repeated promises from nominees from the department to provide answers to Congress in a timely fashion. For example, Mr. Attorney General at your confirmation hearing in January, you stated that you would “try to do all that we can, to make sure that we respond fully. And in a timely fashion…” You also asked for time to “check on the internal workings of the department to make sure that we’re doing it as quickly as we can. And if we’re not, if I can’t give it to you, at least I can give you an explanation.” We’ll it has now been five months since you’ve been confirmed, so I want to hear an explanation to why these answers are outstanding.
I also questioned Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs, Ron Weich, about responding to congressional inquiries. I asked Mr. Weich for his commitment to timely, responsive, and complete answers. He stated that if he was confirmed he looked forward to responding to requests in a timely fashion. Well, we confirmed Mr. Weich and it still seems to be business as usual at the department.
I’m tired of hearing nominees say one thing and do another. At the March FBI Oversight hearing, the Chairman stepped out for a minute and I asked his staff to take note of something I’ve learned over the years. I’ve learned that holding up nominees for an executive branch agency is an effective tool to get answers. I don’t take the decision to hold up nominees lightly. That said, I believe it’s time that the department got down to business and answered our questions. So, until we start getting some answers to these outstanding requests, I’m noticing my intention to hold certain Justice Department nominees. I’ll make sure my holds are open and transparent so that the department knows what they need to produce before I release the nominee. Hopefully, this will get the attention of the Attorney General and the rows of Justice Department staffers sitting behind him.
I hope the Attorney General will provide answers to these important questions and work to provide the committee with the outstanding document and information requests I have.