Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. “Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice”
Thank you, Madam Attorney General, for being with us today.
The news of the past few days has been full of questions about violence, civil rights, and the safety of our police officers—and I want you to know that we take seriously the burden of each of these questions on your office.
It will not have escaped your attention that we are in the middle of election season. You may also know that there are just three working days left until we break for the summer—and, really, not much more time after that until the Congress ends.
Elections are about choices. And a short working schedule is about setting priorities.
As you are no doubt aware, one of this Committee’s top legislative priorities is criminal justice reform. We have already found consensus on a range of such issues, including sentencing, prison, and asset forfeiture reform.
The Chairman and I also stand on the precipice of an agreement on policing reform legislation. Given the events of the past week, the need for this measure has never been more urgent.
Questions about the use of lethal force by police are not new, but the nation is newly engaged in the issue after Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, North Charleston, and Baltimore.
Over the past week, we saw the same sad themes play out in Baton Rouge and Minnesota—as well as in the horrific killing of five police officers in Dallas.
I believe it is more critical than ever that we reach a final agreement on police accountability and standards.
At a time when African Americans are 30% more likely than whites to be pulled over while driving, more than three times more likely to have their car searched, and more than twice as likely to be shot by the police, it is imperative that we restore public faith in our criminal justice system.
We must finish this work, for both the communities that feel so much anguish this week, and for the officers who patrol our streets every day. It is my sincere hope that we consider this matter before we adjourn.
Unfortunately, there are many other areas where we have not been able to advance bipartisan initiatives.
I would like to tell you that we are prepared to have a substantive discussion about the manner in which we will restore Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The preclearance mechanism was used for decades by your Department to restore a sense of fairness in jurisdictions that have known prejudice for generations. Since it was struck down, we have seen at least 17 states enact measures designed to restrict access to the ballot box.
Bipartisan legislation has been introduced that would have restored this vital tool long before voting began this year. But Mr. Sensenbrenner’s legislation sits untouched.
I would also like to tell you that we are prepared to address the scourge of gun violence in this country.
The events last week in Baton Rouge, in Minnesota, and in Dallas—and the anger and sadness felt in communities across the nation—are what one commentator aptly called “the horrific, predictable result of a widely armed citizenry.”
This epidemic claims nearly 33,000 individuals every year. It infects our churches, our schools, and our homes. It places our police officers into the direct line of fire. It makes our citizens afraid.
But we have not held a single hearing on this topic —not when 26 children and teachers were murdered at Sandy Hook, not when our colleague was shot in Phoenix, and not when the body count reached 49 in Orlando.
Last month, every Democratic member of this Committee wrote to Chairman Goodlatte with a list of specific policy proposals to address this violence. To date, we have received no response.
I would also like to tell you, Madam Attorney General, that we have an answer for the millions of undocumented immigrants who came here in search of a better life, but who are forced to live in the shadows.
Some of us have put a great deal of effort into antagonizing and vilifying that community—but this Committee has offered very few solutions acknowledging that these families are here to stay.
But elections are about choices, Madam Attorney General. There are only three working days left this month—and then we adjourn for seven weeks.
How will my colleagues on the other side of the aisle choose to fill that time? Today, apparently, Secretary Hillary Clinton’s email takes precedence over gun violence and civil rights.
Let us be clear: the criminal investigation is closed. There was no intentional wrongdoing. Director Comey—whose reputation for independence and integrity is unquestioned—has explained his reasoning in great detail.
If any of my colleagues are not yet convinced, it is because they do not want to be convinced. And in their zeal to call Secretary Clinton a liar or a criminal—despite the facts and despite the law—I fear they will have missed an opportunity to engage with you on more worthy subjects.
We may also spend time today talking about the alleged wrongdoings of Commissioner Koskinen of the Internal Revenue Service. Some of my colleagues want to use one of the remaining working days before the break to move his impeachment directly to the House floor.
In many ways, this gesture is totally meaningless. There is bipartisan consensus that the Commissioner’s critics have not proved their case, and there is virtually no chance of a conviction in the Senate.
But I believe that the rush to impeachment, although ineffectual, would set a dangerous precedent for the Congress and the American people.
Once we cross this line, we write a new rule: whatever the merits of the charges, the House may impeach an official without due process—without the right to counsel, without the right to present evidence to this Committee, and without the right question the evidence presented against him.
Elections are about choices, Madam Attorney General, and here is the choice we face as the clock runs down on the 114th Congress:
We can spend the few days that remain on conspiracy theories and political sniping that does little for our constituents but drive them further apart from their neighbors.
Or we can attempt to solve even one of the long list of problems that face this country today.
We should choose to do the work we were sent here to do—or the public is right to choose somebody else to do it.
I look forward to our conversation today, Attorney General Lynch. I thank the Chairman, and I yield back.