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Durbin Delivers Opening Statement in Senate Judiciary Committee's First Department of Justice Oversight Hearing Since 2017

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today delivered an opening statement at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled, “Oversight of the Department of Justice.” Durbin spoke about the importance of returning the Senate Judiciary Committee to its traditional oversight role, including by holding annual oversight hearings for agencies within the Committee’s jurisdiction. Durbin highlighted the importance of DOJ’s role in investigating the violent insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, implementing criminal justice reform and advancing the First Step Act, and addressing gun violence in America. Today’s hearing includes testimony from Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Key quotes:

“Today, we are holding the first Department of Justice oversight hearing since October 18, 2017 – the only time during the four-year Trump Administration this Committee held an agency-wide DOJ oversight hearing. Annual [DOJ] oversight hearings were the norm under the Obama Administration. I am pleased to restore this tradition. I thank Attorney General Garland for appearing before us today.”

“The events this Committee described in our recent Subverting Justice report were among the most brazen examples of President Trump attempting to bend the Department of Justice to his will and to his agenda. But they were the natural culmination of four years of attacks on the Department of Justice…There is a straight line from these events to the violent insurrection in the Capitol Building on January 6. When Trump and his allies could not prevail in court and lost case, after case, after case claiming voter fraud, they took their Big Lie to the Justice Department. And when they didn’t prevail there, they dispatched an angry mob to storm the Capitol to stop us from counting the electoral votes.”

“The Department cooperated with the Committee’s investigation into the Clark scheme, and it deserves credit for doing so. Over the course of several months, the Department provided documents, authorized testimony, and resolved executive privilege issues – enabling us on a bipartisan basis to uncover just how close we came to a full-blown constitutional crisis.”

“I commend you for the steps you have taken, but I believe I speak for all of my colleagues in saying that there is still room for improvement when it comes to Department responses. And the Department must deliver on its mission to ensure fair and impartial justice.”

“In the closing days of the Trump Administration, the Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued a memo wrongly declaring, in my estimation, that federal inmates released to home confinement under the bipartisan CARES Act must return to Federal Bureau of Prisons custody following the COVID-19 emergency. In fact, the CARES Act includes no such requirement. These nonviolent inmates are already home, and are overwhelmingly reintegrating into the community with success. On April 23, I sent you a letter, joined by Senator Booker, urging you to rescind this memo. Six months later, we still have not received any response.”

“In November 2020, the Trump Administration published a rule discouraging inmates from completing programs under the First Step Act to reduce their chances of reoffending...Senator Grassley and I sent you a letter on May 5 urging the Department to reject the proposed rule and instead enact a rule consistent with the goal of [the] First Step Act of reducing recidivism. It’s been five months, in fact more than five months. We still have not received a response.”

“Under the Trump Administration, BOP denied all but 36 of 31,000 compassionate release petitions filed during the pandemic. In the first six months of the Biden Administration, BOP approved just nine compassionate release requests. This is extraordinary.”

“The gun violence situation in [Chicago] is intolerable…we need to have your assurance that there is a concerted, determined effort to deal with gun violence at the federal level, coordinating with the state and local officials.”

Video of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s opening statement is available here for TV Stations.