Congressional Record: April 8, 2004 (Senate)
Page S4012-S4013

                           COMMITTEE IN 2003

  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, March 4, 2004 was the 1-year anniversary of 
the last, brief appearance by Attorney General Ashcroft before the 
Senate Judiciary Committee. It was not an anniversary that we marked 
for celebration. Instead, we marked the day as a low point, and 
symbolic of the disdain shown by the administration for oversight by 
the people's representatives in Congress.
  I recognize that the Attorney General was recently incapacitated by a 
personal medical condition. We all wished him a speedy and full 
recovery. Up through March 4, however, there was no explanation for 
ignoring his oversight responsibilities. The Attorney General has since 
resumed his duties after successful surgery and a brief respite. It is 
time now for him to answer the call of those oversight responsibilities 
by appearing before this committee.
  Vigorous oversight is instrumental to ensuring that our law 
enforcement officials are effective and accountable, both in fighting 
crime and in preventing acts of terrorism. The lack of attention this 
Justice Department has given to oversight by the Senate Judiciary 
Committee regarding issues of national importance, including 
implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act, is, quite frankly, appalling. 
Reticence by the Nation's chief law enforcement officer to appear 
before the authorizing committee of the Senate would be disappointing 
any time. During these trying times in which the administration has 
chosen unilateral action it is inexcusable.
  The written questions I posed to General Ashcroft in connection with 
last year's hearing did not get any response for 9 months, and even 
then, the so-called answers were incomplete and unresponsive. In fact, 
the Justice Department has delayed answering numerous written oversight 
requests until answers are moot or outdated, or they respond in vague 
and evasive terms. This approach stymies our constitutional system of 
checks and balances. The checks and balance on the executive intended 
by the Founders and embodied in the Constitution are being put to the 
test by a secretive administration. More importantly, such flagrant 
avoidance of accountability fuels the sort of public distrust that is 
now associated with federal law enforcement and, in particular, with 
this Attorney General and his department.
  Let me provide a few of what could be many, many examples:
  On June 19, 2002, Senator Grassley and I sent a letter to the Office 
of the Inspector General, regarding allegations made by an FBI 
whistleblower that posed several important questions about the problems 
in the FBI's translator program that have never been answered. The 
Attorney General has yet to intervene despite the unseemly delay. I 
raised the issue of translators in our first meeting on September 19, 
2001, as we began the process of constructing what became the PATRIOT 
Act. I have attempted to follow up in the months and years since that 
time and have been given the run around with conflicting responses 
virtually each time I inquire. With the implications proper translation 
and translation capacities have for the country's security, these 
delays and this unresponsiveness is simply unacceptable.
  Over 2 years ago, I began asking about the FBI's translation program. 
Yet, questions I posed to the Assistant Attorney General Wray during an 
October oversight hearing were greeted with a virtual blank stare and 
no knowledge about the issue at all. On March 2 of this year, I sent a 
letter to the Attorney General and FBI Director Mueller repeating some 
of what I have asked before and asking about new issues that have since 
been raised. Needless to say, no answers have been forthcoming.
  On January 10, 2003, Senator Feingold, Senator Cantwell and I sent 
the Attorney General a set of questions regarding the Department's 
data-mining practices. On February 19, we were informed that our letter 
had been referred to the FBI for a response, and that a response would 
be provided no later than March 31. On March 18, we were advised that 
the FBI's response had been delivered to the Department for review and 
approval, and that the Department would transmit the final response to 
us directly. That was the last we heard on this matter. It has been 
over a year since we inquired. American's privacy interests should not 
be so easily sloughed aside.
  On May 23, 2002, I wrote to the Attorney General to request a full 
accounting of any problems the Department or the FBI might be 
experiencing with regard to the PATRIOT Act amendment authorizing 
``roving wiretaps'' under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, 
FISA. In particular, I asked the Department to detail any problems 
involving technical and operational implementation of the new 
authority, the current statutory language, construction of that 
language by the FISA court, or a combination of any or all of these 
factors. I have received no response. Roving wiretaps were one of the 
more controversial authorities that we provided following September 11. 
Americans across the country are concerned and fearful that their 
privacy is being invaded by a federal government that may be repeating 
historical excesses. To reassure the public and to correct problems, we 
need answers--prompt answers. Ten months is too long to have to wait 
for such an accounting.
  Other oversight letters that have remained unanswered for 6 months or 
more include questions about the Department's death penalty procedures, 
the status of regulations for reporting suspicion child exploitation 
matters, concern about the Wen Ho Lee espionage case, and the release 
of Office of Legal Counsel opinions.
  Despite his having recently been a Member of the Senate and of the 
Senate Judiciary Committee, it would seem that in his current role as 
Attorney General, former Senator Ashcroft has forgotten that effective 
oversight of the Justice Department requires the Department's full and 
timely cooperation. When stale and incomplete responses to questions 
trickle in after months of delay, one has to wonder whether the 
Department is incapable of responding in a timely fashion or is 
deliberately stonewalling.
  Congress is not the only one asking questions. In the past year, 
several Federal courts have criticized the Justice Department's use of 
tools to pursue terrorism-related activity and the unilateral power 
asserted by the executive branch. I regret that when Congress is not 
vigorous in its necessary oversight and when the Executive ignores our 
oversight, it falls to the courts as the only remaining check on 
Executive power to review its actions. That is why the Supreme Court 
will be spending so much time this year on terrorism cases. That is not 
the way it should be or needs to be. That is apparently the intention 
of the Executive, however. That contravenes the Constitution and 
denigrates our Government.

  Last March, I was hopeful that the Attorney General's appearance 
before the committee would be the first of a series of hearings 
building on the important oversight activities we began in the last 
Congress, including the first comprehensive oversight of the FBI 
initiated in decades. Unfortunately, that important mission too seems 
to have fallen by the wayside. With the change in Senate leadership to 
the Republican Party, little interest has been

[[Page S4013]]

shown in effective congressional oversight. Our security and the 
American people are the losers in this regard.
  Late on a February Friday afternoon--a time often used by the current 
administration to bury news stories--the FBI quietly released a report 
on its broken ``Office of Professional Responsibility.'' The report was 
occasioned in part by FBI whistleblowers who had the courage to stand 
up and denounce longstanding problems in the way the FBI disciplined 
itself. One recommendation of the OPR report was to adopt a reform 
Senator Grassley and I have introduced over the last few years as part 
of our FBI Reform Act. Like oversight, our legislative efforts to 
improve the practices of the Executive branch also seem stymied. This 
Republican-controlled Senate will not even consider enacting reforms we 
all know are needed, that watchdogs within the Executive have endorsed.
  So here we are, over 13 months after we last saw General Ashcroft, 
and we have no schedule for the long overdue appearance by the Attorney 
General of the United States before the oversight committee of the 
Senate. Republican Senators may have disagreed with Attorney General 
Reno's leadership on certain issues, but they cannot say that she did 
not appear before the Judiciary Committee for hours and hours at a time 
and listen to our questions and seek to answer the questions of all 
Senators, Republicans and Democrats. By contrast, the current Attorney 
General found the time to make a 19-city cross country tour last year 
in which he appeared before friendly, hand-picked audiences and 
delivered a series of statements seeking to defend his use of the 
PATRIOT Act. He finds time to attend virtually every press conference 
on an indictment or case development in high profile cases. Yet he has 
not, and apparently will not, appear before the people's elected 
representatives to answer our questions, hear our concerns and work 
with us to improve the work of the Department of Justice.
  We in Congress have the constitutional obligation and public 
responsibility to oversee the Department of Justice's operations. After 
September 11, after we expressed our sorrow for the victims and our 
determination to respond while preserving American freedoms, I publicly 
noted my regret that we had not performed more effective and thorough 
oversight of the Department of Justice in the years before 2001. During 
the 17 months in 2001 and 2002 when I chaired the Judiciary Committee I 
worked with all Members, Republicans and Democrats, to provide real 
oversight. There were times when the Attorney General used our hearings 
as a forum to attack us and our patriotism but we persisted to perform 
our constitutional duties. It is with deep regret that I report to the 
Senate and the American people that it is now more than a year since 
the Attorney General of the United States last appeared before the 
Senate Judiciary Committee. It is with sadness that I note the lack of 
effective oversight the Committee and the Senate are conducting on 
matters that threaten the freedoms and security of the American people.