Attorney General Barr’s remarks at the U.S. Attorneys’ National Conference


Attorney General William P. Barr:
Thank you, Thank you. Now how was that for an ice breaker? A word about how that came about – Jessie
and Rob and Zach thought they were going to surprise me by having the Emeralds Society
Pipeband come down from New York. But as you know, I’m very proficient at
– dare I say the word – spying. I discovered the plot and so this was my counter
surprise. The last time I played was just December 8th. Now, that was my youngest daughter’s wedding
here in Washington. And some of you may remember that I was announced
by the President on December 7th and Pearl Harbor Day. The way that came about was, the announcement
was supposed to be the following week, but on the morning of December 7th, I got this
call from the President saying, “Bill I know we talked about doing it next week and
I know your daughter is getting married tomorrow, and that’s fine if you want to keep it like
that, but I’m just going out to the helicopters, and I’d like to announce it if it’s okay
with you – but it’s totally up to you. And I said, you know Mr. President, we had
discussed it as a family, and whatever you consider best is fine with us – we’ll
adapt. So sure enough, as my first out-of-body experience,
and they’re have been a lot since then, I turn on the TV and there he was announcing
me as Attorney General. Now, that was great, but the following day
at my daughter’s wedding my daughter said to me, “Pop, you’re the only guy I know
who can upstage his own daughter at her wedding.” So when I was toasting, I said, “Meg, look
at it this way – just before the name Barr is dragged through the mud, you’re changing
your name to McCoy.” Anyway, well good morning everybody. I want to thank Rob Hur and Zach Terwilliger,
for bringing this Conference together, and especially thank Jessie Liu, John Huber, and
Jim Crowell for their leadership of the AGAC and the EOUSA. And of course, Tim Garrison for a wonderful
rendition of our National Anthem. And I really want to thank New York City’s
Police Emerald Society Pipeband. And I want to thank all of you. As I told you when I came on board, I firmly
believe that no finer complement of U.S. Attorneys has ever been assembled at the department. The intervening months have only strengthened
my conviction. I have met most of you individually and have
seen the great results of all of your work, both in the individual cases and in the aggregate. It is a privilege to serve with you, and I
look forward to working closely with you in the months ahead. Much has changed here at Main Justice since
the last U.S. Attorney’s Conference. You have this old Attorney General as your
new Attorney General, and the Department has also welcomed recently a new Deputy Attorney
General, Jeff Rosen. Those of you who have already worked with
him know that he is a superlative lawyer with broad experience at senior levels of government
as well as the private sector. He’s already making and will continue to
make great contributions to the Department. We also have new leadership in the Associate’s
Office, where Claire Murray now serves as Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General. But while much has changed at the Department
over the past year, a lot has also stayed the same. As I told you months ago, I support the prosecutorial
priorities of Attorney General Sessions. We remain focused on violent crime, drugs,
immigration, and national security. There are also a number of specific initiatives
that he established that I hope to continue and build upon, and as I said on my first
day when I talked to you all, it is “full speed ahead” is the order of the day. Over the last several months, I have been
struck by a contradiction that you no doubt experience every day. On the one hand, the Department’s law-enforcement
efforts are at their all-time best. We have dedicated agents and AUSAs working
tirelessly to enforce federal law across the country. You and your teams are exhausting all available
resources to maximize our impact in communities that we serve. On the other hand, the threats we face are
greater and more complex than ever. We still see persistent violent crime; growing
national-security threats; record threats from illegal drug distribution; the increasing
reach of transnational criminal organizations; and a crisis at our Southern Border — all
despite the Department’s record-breaking efforts. Much of what we are doing today in my mind
is trying to make up ground that was lost as the result of inattention in the past. I assure you that with sustained efforts and
firm resolve we will make up this ground and surmount these challenges. I want you to know that I support you and
your teams and will do all I can to step up the fight. One of these priorities has been fresh on
my mind of late, and that is violent crime. We were all alarmed by the events in Dallas,
Texas, where a disturbed veteran opened fire at the federal courthouse, including shooting
three AUSAs and one of their children. We are fortunate that the would-be shooter
was the only casualty. And I am proud of the response from the courthouse
security, from the FBI, and from our U.S. Attorney’s Office under the leadership of
Erin Nealy Cox. The personal safety of our AUSAs is of the
utmost importance to me, as I know it is to all of you. I have been closely focused on proposals by
the AGAC to ensure the safety of our prosecutors. I assure you that the AUSAs will have the
authority and the tools they need, not only to do their jobs effectively, but also to
keep themselves and their families safe. Today we are the lucky ones. Far too often I find myself writing condolence
letters to the families of fallen law enforcement officers. Just in the past week or so, we have seen
five officers killed in the line of duty, four of them shot by armed criminals. Police officers selflessly put their lives
on the line to keep all of us safe. Attacks on them are an attack on all of us. These and other incidents are connected to
an emerging willingness in some quarters of our society to countenance resistance to,
and violence against, law enforcement officers. This Department will not tolerate violence
against police, and we will do all we can to protect the safety of law enforcement officers. We can all be rightly proud of this Administration’s
record on violent crime. We have made impressive progress. But we must keep up a full court press. There are still areas of the country where
we have not made sufficient headway. For many communities in America, armed criminals
and violent crime are still the norm. We cannot accept this status quo. That is why the Department remains committed
to driving down violent crime, including through the vigorous prosecution of firearms offenses. I have been glad to see that prosecutions
under § 922(g) are at an all-time high. We need to maintain our focus on getting illegal
guns off the streets and out of the hands of violent criminals. I want all of our offices to work with their
state and local partners on “Triggerlock” cases that take advantage of stiff federal
penalties to punish and deter violent felons. I also want to see vigorous enforcement of
the background-check process, both against prohibited persons who “lie and try” and
against firearm dealers who skirt the process. We need to provide real deterrence. I look forward to working with all of you
to step up our drive against gun crime. As you all know, we also cannot reduce violent
crime without confronting the role of gangs and other criminal organizations. Working with our state and local partners,
we must keep sustained pressure on these groups, which are primary drivers of violent crime. Many of these criminal organization are national
or transnational, and thus requires a coordinated federal strategy. We are already working with the AGAC and our
national task force leaders on strategies for the top transnational threats. But whatever the scale, the Department needs
to use all available tools to dismantle these groups and to disrupt their efforts. RICO is one powerful tool to neutralize violent
criminal organizations, and I know that some of you have used it very effectively. We should strive to duplicate these efforts
across the country. While I am talking about violent crime, I
also want to make clear that, while our focus is often on predatory violence, I am also
deeply concerned about the rise in hate crimes that we have seen over the past decade. We must have zero tolerance for violence that
is motivated by hatred for our fellow citizens — whether on the basis of their racial,
religious, or sexual characteristics. We also need to take a strong stand against
those who would use violence to intimidate people from exercising their rights to free
speech and to participate in the democratic process. In addition to gangs and guns, the other significant
driver of violent crime is obviously drug crime, which represents another priority for
our Department. When I returned to the Department as Attorney
General, it was disheartening to learn about the state of the drug problem across the country. In most respects, the problem is much worse
than it was in 1993. I believe that the last Administration was
not aggressive enough in fighting the drug threat; a lot of ground was lost; and a tsunami
was allowed to build up, which is now hitting the country. But we can’t be discouraged. When I look at the overdose deaths, the blighted
lives, and the families and communities broken by drug addiction, it reminds me why we cannot
surrender. We must work harder than ever. I am proud that this Administration has shone
a much-needed light on the opioid epidemic and that the Department has taken a number
of dramatic steps to tackle this national crisis head on. And while there are encouraging signs of progress,
our work is far from over, as you all know. On the streets, the rise of fentanyl and other
synthetic opioids has been followed by 100-times stronger car-fentanyl and mixtures of fentanyl
with cocaine and other drugs. We must continue our efforts to prevent and
punish diversion of licit drugs, another area where we have made great strides. And, as you know, while opioids are the most
acute problem in many areas of the country, in other areas Mexican methamphetamine is
surging. We must keep fighting and keep innovating
to match this ever-evolving threat. We also face an unprecedented immigration
crisis on our Southern Border. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
is in the lead on tackling this problem. A lasting solution will require changing our
laws, but in the meanwhile we must do all we can to support DHS. We have to continue our work prosecuting the
illegal reentry cases that DHS refers to us. But even if we devoted every AUSA in the country
to those cases, we could not resolve the crisis at our Southern border through prosecutions
alone. That is why I am working to address the problem
through a surge of immigration judges, new Attorney General rulings, revised regulations
in coordination with DHS, and a host of other measures. Most dramatically, the President has achieved
a real breakthrough in our relations with Mexico, whereby the Mexican government is
now taking a series of critical measures to control the flow of illegal migration. Just these initial steps are starting to bite. There is a real prospect that these actions,
along with efforts in Central America that we are taking, will help us turn the corner. National security must always be a top priority. The Department is fully committed to combatting
terrorism, foreign intelligence threats, the theft of intellectual property by foreign
adversaries, and cyber attacks. These efforts lie at the core of our sworn
oath to defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. First, over the last decade, we have achieved
extraordinary successes in combatting terrorism and terrorist threats at home and abroad,
but we can never let down our guard. We must use all available lawful means to
neutralize terrorists in the United States or elsewhere we find them within our reach. The United States relies on many tools to
combat international terrorism and the work of the U.S. Attorneys’ Office has been a
critical part of that effort. In appropriate cases, we will continue to
prosecute terrorists as one important means to protect our citizens, by removing these
deadly threats from the face of the map. Second, among the greatest threats to our
national security are those posed by rival foreign powers. Foremost among these is China, which we know
to have both a robust intelligence operation and an economic strategy that includes exploiting
the intellectual property of our companies and our citizens. We need to continue to pursue, and indeed
step up, our China initiative. The threat of attack on our economic infrastructure,
trade secrets and intellectual property is ever growing and we should be prepared to
address it wherever we find it. Finally, and relatedly, we remained focused
on the growing and evolving cyber threat. In the twenty-first century, increasing proportion
of crime is cyber crime, as the dark web has become a black market of contraband that fuels
criminal endeavors of all kind. As organized crime becomes increasingly transnational,
we see more and more crime move online. We have resources to address the cyber threats
we face, but we must ensure that we use these resources efficiently to operate in an environment
that grows increasingly vast and challenging. As I alluded to earlier, there are also a
number of other focused initiatives that I hope to see continue and strengthen during
my tenure. For me, the elder-fraud initiative provides
a great example for how the Department can use its resources with a high return. Not only is the elderly population among our
most vulnerable of our citizens, but we are learning more and more about the role of foreign
and transnational criminal organizations in perpetrating these schemes. Another area I want see us redouble our efforts
is in prosecuting human trafficking violations, especially those involving children. We are working with the AGAC and several components
on initiatives to step up the fight in this arena. That should give you a sense of my views on
the priorities of the Department. But my charge today is not to go out into
the field and maximize prosecutions in each of these categories. You will always need to strike a balance. And as you do, here are a few things to keep
in mind: First, in a Department like ours, the notion
of priorities should not be confused. We have an obligation to enforce all federal
law, and that means covering all the bases as best we can. If we say that the Department will prioritize
violent crime prosecutions, we know that this cannot mean that we ignore civil-rights violations
or environmental crimes. We must try our best to enforce federal law
across the board with the limited resources we have. A necessary corollary is that federal prosecutors
must exercise sound discretion to strike a balance. This balance requires that each of you adapt
the Department’s general priorities to the specific circumstances of your districts. Thus, while opioids represent the greatest
drug threat in many districts, others face greater problems with methamphetamines or
cocaine. And while transnational criminal organizations
may be the primary driver of violent crime in one city, in another area may be localized,
home-grown groups. Our Department priorities have never intended
to take your eyes off the leading problems in your district, including the great work
done by your civil divisions. Each of us or each of you is responsible for
determining where we can have the biggest impact in advancing the safety and well-being
of your communities. Once we have decided where to dedicate our
resources, we must do so efficiently. Tenacity is often a great attribute, but you
must also be prepared to redirect efforts when prudence so dictates. We must remain thoughtful and objective in
our analysis of the merits of an investigation, and be nimble enough to reassess as circumstances
change. Knowing when to drive on and when to redirect
your limited resources is a critical part of leadership. Third, we must take ownership and accept accountability
for our decisions. Every indictment that comes out of your office
bears your name and, as you know, is your responsibility. It also ultimately reflects on your colleagues
and the U.S. Attorney community all of us who work in the Department of Justice. That is a grave responsibility, but an essential
one, because the legitimacy of our system ultimately depends on accountability, from
the AUSA on the line all the way up to the Attorney General. So with that, I’d like to close my remarks. Thank you all for the superb job you’re
doing and repeat that I look forward to working closely with you in the months ahead. God bless. U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger:
Now Mr. Attorney General, we couldn’t let you leave without a few gifts that are appropriately
sanctioned. For those of you who checked in, you realized
that you got a hat. Well this is the 1990s Attorney General Barr
first go round hat. We’ve upped our game just slightly and our
colleague Rob Hur would like to hand you our new 2019 version of your hat, and my colleague
Jessie Liu would like to hand you one of our conference t-shirts. We wanted to
make sure you could identify each district on the back before you pick up the phone and
call us to express your concern about some of our charging decisions
Attorney General William P. Barr: What do the color codes mean? U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger:
The color codes mean nothing, except EDVA is gold, but that just happened to happen. Let’s give the attorney general another
round of applause

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