Congressman Frank Wolf

Representing the 10th District of Virginia

Wolf To Holder: I Am Disappointed In Your Leadership

Apr 4, 2014

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Justice Department, today told U.S. Attorney General Holder he has been “disappointed” in his leadership on issues ranging from his narrow reading of the law that is preventing more from being done to stop sex trafficking and using military assets to track down, detain or kill the Benghazi terrorists while at the same time taking unprecedented steps to bend the law to allow for the expansion of Internet gambling and recreational marijuana use.  

“As the nation’s top law enforcement officer, you have a responsibility to enforce the law, whether it’s politically expedient or not,” Wolf said in his opening statement at Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Justice Department’s FY 2015 budget request.  “Unfortunately, I believe your record falls short.”

Wolf also criticized Holder and the Justice Department for failing to meet congressional reporting requirements over the last two years and announced that CJS subcommittee will withhold $1 million from department for every overdue report from the department’s FY 2015 budget.  Wolf said the money would be directed to agencies under the jurisdiction of the CJS subcommittee that comply with reporting requirements.

Below is the complete text of Wolf’s prepared statement:

“Before we begin, I want to mention that our thoughts are with the families of the victims and the survivors of Wednesday’s shooting at Fort Hood.  At this hearing last year, we spent a great deal of time discussing the victims of the terrorist attack that occurred there five years ago.  Today, our thoughts are certainly with the victims and their families as well as with the earlier victims for whom this must be a painful reminder of the 2009 attack. 

“The Justice Department budget request for fiscal year 2015 is relatively flat at $27.7 billion, a net increase of 1 percent.  While the budget would continue efforts funded by the Congress in the FY 2014 Omnibus to restart hiring for vacant positions, your budget also contains some gimmicks, like $900 million of unspecified offsets, mostly from department’s law enforcement agencies.  Today, we will discuss the potential impact of these proposed cuts to federal law enforcement agencies. 

“I want to recognize a few items upfront where I appreciate steps you have taken, particularly with regard to improving federal prisons.  As you know, the FY 2014 bill created the Chuck Colson Task Force on Federal Prisons to provide an outside assessment and recommendations on how we can learn from the states on  ‘best practices’ for reforming the federal prison system to reduce recidivism and improve public safety.  I appreciate that the department has moved quickly on the grant solicitation and I believe an award will be made soon so this group can get started.  This may be our best opportunity to improve the prison system nationwide.

“Additionally, I have written you about the urgent need to rebuild Federal Prison Industries so we can put more inmates to work and get them valuable job training.  The Bureau of Prisons has made some positive steps using repatriation authority this committee provided to get more inmates working.  I hope you will continue to support these efforts

“However, I also want to address a number of critical issues under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department where, quite frankly, I have been disappointed in your leadership.  In certain cases, I believe you have bent the law to allow for the expansion of Internet gambling and facilitating marijuana suppliers to access the banking system.  

“I am concerned about the far-reaching consequences of the Office of Legal Counsel’s 2011 abrupt decision to reverse years of precedent regarding the Wire Act, which kicked open the door for widespread Internet gambling.  Although the decision was signed off on in September 2011, it was inexplicably withheld from the public for months until the Friday before Christmas in an apparent effort to bury the reversal of policy in a slow news cycle.

“To date, no one knows what prompted this change, who requested it and why it was kept hidden for months and released just before Christmas Eve.  What we do know is that this decision will open the floodgates to Internet gambling, which will have devastating consequences if it is not reversed. 

“The societal costs of widespread gambling are well documented and the easy accessibility of gambling on computers, phones and tablets 24 hours a day has the potential to create more gambling addicts, particularly among the young, than this country has ever seen.  A college student will now be able to go bankrupt in their dorm room gambling on their computer. 

“In addition to gambling, I am also deeply concerned about your selective enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act with regard to marijuana in states like Colorado and Washington.  Your relaxation of enforcement – as well as your efforts to create a legal path for banking for marijuana distributors – will accelerate the ‘normalization’ of a drug of abuse, a horrible outcome for our youth and our society.  Just this week we heard from the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), who testified about the many negative consequences of relaxing restrictions on marijuana abuse.  This is the result of detailed research.

“I believe your failure to enforce federal law and to help marijuana providers access the banking system will result in more drug addiction as well as more car accidents and other drug-related fatalities.  I know you don’t mean for these negative consequences to happen – and I suspect you’re under a lot of pressure by some to facilitate the further legalization of marijuana – but the fact is that NIDA and others have testified there is a direct correlation between marijuana use and these health and public safety impacts.  Will you meet with Dr. Volkow?

“In contrast to the ‘flexible approach’ you have taken on marijuana and Internet gambling, in other areas, like sex trafficking, you have taken the opposite approach and chosen to follow an extremely rigid interpretation of the law, which prevents significant action from being taken to stop the Internet facilitation of the trafficking of girls and women on Web sites like Backpage.com.

“Last month, this subcommittee held a hearing with a number of expert witnesses, including a trafficking survivor, a Fairfax County police officer, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Cindy McCain, who has helped elevate this issue in the media.  All of the witnesses highlighted just how important it is for the government to confront the Internet facilitation of sex trafficking, if we’re truly committed to ending this modern-day slavery.

“Just two weeks ago we received your report on the issue which I have urged you to provide for years and ultimately directed in the FY 2013 Omnibus.  To the department’s credit, the report provided some good information about what statutory and regulatory changes need to be made to go after Web sites that facilitate sex trafficking.  However, I remain disappointed at how long it is taking to elevate this issue and give it the attention it deserves.  Just think of how many young girls and women – each someone’s daughter, mother or sister – who have been the victims of trafficking over the last five years while the department has hesitated to take bolder action.  Today, I hope we can discuss what steps the department and the Congress need to take now to ensure that more years don’t pass before action is taken. 

“Another concern I have is this administration’s choice to narrowly interpret its authority under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) so as not to allow military assets to be used to track down and kill the terrorists responsible for the deadly Benghazi terror attacks.

“In most other cases, the administration takes a broad interpretation of the AUMF to go after terrorists in the Middle East and North Africa.  Yet, for some reason, when it comes to the Benghazi suspects, you have read the law in a way that it prevents military action against the al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists responsible for killing our ambassador.  This refusal to use the AUMF is particularly inexplicable considering that the former acting director of CIA Michael Morrell testified on Wednesday that “The [CIA] analysts said from the get-go that al Qaeda was involved in this attack.”

“Given that the administration has known from the beginning of the al-Qaeda connection, and the AUMF allows the military to go after terrorists connected to al-Qaeda, how can you defend reading the law in a way that it prevents using all resources, including military assets, to track down, detain or kill these terrorists?  Can you really argue that the AUMF allows you to make a drone strike on Aulaqi – an American citizen – but not on a terrorist connected to al-Qaeda that killed our ambassador?

“I would also note that, to date, not a single terrorist responsible for this deadly attack has been captured or killed.  On the very limited occasions where suspects have been detained, your department has failed to exert pressure on the governments of Tunisia and Egypt to allow the FBI to have access to the suspects.

“These are just a few notable examples of this department’s selective enforcement or interpretation of the law.  As the nation’s top law enforcement officer, you have a responsibility to enforce the law, whether it’s politically expedient or not.  Unfortunately, I believe your record falls short.

“Last week we received your report, required in the FY13 Appropriations bill, on the implementation of new requirements to be applied to IT infrastructure procurement, in particularly for hardware and systems coming from China.  Although the administration was not initially supportive of this effort to restrict purchases questionable IT hardware, I appreciate that the department appears to be taking the new requirements seriously.

“In fact, your recent report indicated that the new process put in place caught ‘seven IT procurements from six vendors [that] were associated with questionable foreign ownership, control or influence, criminal activities, financial, counterintelligence or counterterrorism.’   I believe this report demonstrates that the policy this committee directed was both necessary and constructive, and it will help bolster the department’s cybersecurity.  

“In addition to the subjects I have mentioned, I expect today to have questions regarding prisons; cybercrime and growing cyber threats both at home and from abroad; initiatives in immigration adjudication and mutual legal assistance; and the department’s growing and evolving enforcement workload and priorities. 

“Finally, I want to address the Justice Department’s failure to comply with reporting requirements directed in the FY 2013 Omnibus Act, which was signed into law more than one year ago.  The FY 2013 bill required the Department to provide 66 reports.  To date, over a year later, the committee has only received little more than half of these mandatory reports. 

“There are still 25 outstanding reports and briefings from the FY 2013 bill, and that doesn’t include any of the additional reports directed in the FY 2014 bill, which was subsequently signed into law earlier this year.  There are already 18 reports in the FY 2014 bill that are overdue to the committee. 

“With a workforce of more than 100,000 employees, I know that the department certainly has the capacity to provide the directed reports.  What is lacking is the will to be responsive to the Congress on the part of the department’s leadership.  That is what I find particularly disappointing. 

“Today, I am announcing a new policy that these overdue reports will no longer be tolerated by the committee.  When our FY 2015 bill is marked up this spring, I intend to withhold $1 million for every overdue report from the FY 2013 and FY 2014 bills.  The funds will be provided instead to agencies in this bill that comply with reporting requirements.  With the current backlog of 43 reports, this could be a significant reduction in funds for the department.  But you have now been given fair warning that these overdue reports will now be taken into account when the subcommittee determines your budget.  

“For the record, I find it extremely unfortunate that I have to take this action, but I know no other way to encourage the department to follow through on its required obligations to this Committee. 

“At this point, I will yield to Mr. Fattah for any comments he may have.”