March 12, 2015

Kaine Urges Senate Colleagues To Confirm Attorney General Nominee Loretta Lynch

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In remarks on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine urged his colleagues to confirm Attorney General nominee Loretta E. Lynch. Lynch was nominated by President Obama 124 days ago and her nomination was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February.

“Ms. Lynch is a no-nonsense, hardworking prosecutor, known for her aplomb, her demeanor, her intelligence and her ability to work with a wide variety of stakeholders,” said Kaine. “I am absolutely confident that Ms. Lynch will approach these issues with the same focus, fairness and expertise that she has approached her work in the past.”

Kaine underscored the importance of confirming the President’s nominee for attorney general, whose job it will be going forward to address heightened tension between law enforcement and communities across the country following the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and police officers in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri.  

“These instances in cities around the country demonstrate a significant level of tension and even distrust between the police and communities they serve, often minority communities or communities of color,” said Kaine. “I am here to tell you that these tensions do not have to exist. They can be bridged. They can be solved, but it takes a fully functioning Department of Justice with a leader at the helm who has been confirmed to solve these issues.”

Kaine also pointed to the Department of Justice (DoJ) investigation into the death of John Geer of Virginia to demonstrate the important role DoJ plays in providing added confidence in the integrity of investigations.

Full text of Kaine’s remarks:

Mr. President, I rise to speak on behalf of the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General of the United States. It is interesting that this is a week where we have been engaged in a dialogue back and forth about the issue of human trafficking, which is a serious and significant issue, obviously. But it, along with many other issues, demand a strong Justice Department, and a strong Justice Department is not possible without a confirmed Attorney General as a leader. Ms. Lynch has been now nominated over four months ago. It's been 124 days since her nomination, and she has still yet to be confirmed and I rise to speak on her behalf. I have visited with Loretta Lynch in person. I observed her throughout the nominations process. My brother-in-law worked as an Assistant US Attorney with her in the Eastern District of New York in the late 1990s, and I am impressed like many of my colleagues by her credentials, her extensive experience and was gratified to see that the Judiciary Committee reported her nomination to the floor.

I am disappointed it has taken 124 days to get to this point. I was pleased to hear the Majority Leader indicate that the Senate may take up her nomination next week, but I think it is important for the nation to recognize how critical this appointment is and how we should not have let it go this long.

Mr. President, I want to reflect back to probably the hardest elected office I held or will hold, which was Mayor of Richmond. When I was a city councilman and mayor from 1994 to 2000, my city had the burden of having the second highest homicide rate in the United States. And we worked in our community together with everyone, especially law enforcement and community leaders, to try to bring down that scourge of violent crime which was affecting neighborhoods especially the poorest neighborhoods.

We were able, over the course of seven years, to achieve some very dramatic success in making our city safer, but along the way, Mr. President, I learned a couple of very important things.

The first was this -- that you can't tackle major public safety challenges without a strong relation between the community and the local police department. It is impossible to make progress if that does not happen.

And secondly, I also learned you can't tackle a difficult public safety challenge without a strong Department of Justice. We relied upon that partnership with our local US Attorney's office in the Eastern District of Virginia, but all the way up through Main Justice and the Attorney General in order to try to tackle and turn our city's public safety situation around.

Today there are critical issues facing this country, urgent issues facing this country that deal with the relationship between our communities and law enforcement agencies. And if there is ever a time that we would want to have a confirmed Attorney General in office without question marks surrounding when that confirmation would take place, it would be now.

As you and you who know, we've seen over the last few months a series of controversies that have really torn at all of us as we watched challenges in communities and distrust between communities and law enforcement agencies. In early August Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old was shot during a confrontation with an officer in Ferguson, Missouri. That shooting spurred nationwide protests and concerns against what many in Ferguson and elsewhere viewed as overly aggressive tactics by the police. A month prior to the death of Michael Brown, Eric garner died as a result of a police chokehold in July in New York when he was confronted over the selling of untaxed cigarettes. There have been similar instances in Cleveland and Madison. It’s not limited to one part of the country. It’s not limited to North, South, East or West. There have been similar instances that have raised serious concerns about the connection between law enforcement and the community.

And, Mr. President, there have also been horrible atrocities committed against members of the law enforcement community -- the deaths of two NYPD officers, shot point blank weeks ago in New York city while they sat in their patrol car and just yesterday, as we've heard reported, shootings of police officers in Ferguson, Missouri.

These instances in cities around the country demonstrate a significant level of tension and even distrust between the police and communities they serve, often minority communities or communities of color. I am here to tell you that these tensions do not have to exist. They can be bridged. They can be solved, but it takes a fully functioning Department of Justice with a leader at the helm who has been confirmed to solve these issues.

 The Department of Justice has throughout history and today played a critical role in investigating cases like this and some of the situations I mentioned. The DOJ has been able to come in and be involved and provide some calm to situations, provide some level of confidence that there would not be a sugarcoating or an effort to sweep into the closet legitimate questions in the community. In the state of Virginia, Mr. President, there is currently a DOJ investigation concerning the police shooting death of John Geer, an unarmed Caucasian who was shot on the steps of his residence in August of 2013, and local officials in that county have welcomed the involvement of the Department of Justice because they knew that citizens would have a greater confidence in the outcome if it was being done by someone other than the officials who had been elected locally.

And so there is a critical need at this point to provide some competence to communities that have questions about the relationship between their own concerns and the service of law enforcement departments, just as law enforcement departments want to have a way to build bridges with the communities they represent.

Loretta Lynch understands the significance of the Attorney General’s role in these situations. She has testified one of her key priorities would be to work to strengthen the bonds between law enforcement personnel who she has worked with during her entire career and the communities that they serve which she well understands. The DOJ Last week released a report from their investigation into the Ferguson policing practices that laid out a number of significant concerns, concerns that if they are unaddressed will continue to lead to distrust in Ferguson and elsewhere. A strong Justice Department that can help mediate and bring the sides together is a part of the solution.

Now, Mr. President, I raise these issues only to highlight that right now we are at a critical time in the nation's criminal justice system. A delay of confirming an Attorney General for four-plus months is never warranted, given the importance of the position. A delay is not warranted in this case given the strong credentials of Loretta Lynch, but the delay is especially unwelcome, given the urgent need to have leadership of the Justice Department, who could try to bring some calm to the situation and build confidence in communities and among law enforcement agencies.

We've got to have an incoming AG on the job, taking on the challenges in a manner that will bring different aspects of the community together to make necessary changes and strengthen the equality of our system for all.

Now, of course, beyond the issue of community policing, we face so many other challenges. National security in terrorism, and in that respect, the Eastern District in New York where Ms. Lynch has served has had one of the most significant dockets of antiterrorism cases of any jurisdiction in the country. She is an expert in those areas. Cybersecurity. The very human trafficking issues we have been discussing on the floor today are issues that Ms. Lynch has worked on significantly in her role. Protecting voting rights and so many more.

Ms. Lynch is a no-nonsense, hardworking prosecutor, known for her aplomb, her misdemeanor, her intelligence and her ability to work with a wide variety of stakeholders, and I am absolutely confident that Ms. Lynch will approach these issues with the same focus, fairness and expertise that she has approached her work in the past. And so I stand today to urge my colleagues to not wait, to support Loretta Lynch for our next Attorney General. It has been said to the point where it is a cliché but nevertheless a true one that justice delayed is justice denied. The refusal to confirm a leader to head the most important law enforcement agency in the United States is a delay of justice that, for many, seems to be a denial of justice, and we can rectify that concern in communities across this country if we act with dispatch to confirm a person who is eminently qualified to hold the nation's highest law enforcement position. With that, Mr. President, I thank you and yield the floor.

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