Mr. Chair, I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I thank Chairman GOODLATTE for bringing forth this legislation.
Mr. Chair, I am a lawyer, like many of our members on the Judiciary Committee.
I served as a prosecutor and as a judge, and we have a lot of those legal beagles on our Judiciary Committee.
Although I worked primarily in State court as a judge and a prosecutor, I have always had great respect for those people in the Justice Department who work on behalf of the people of the United States in Federal court.
However, over the last few years, my opinion of the Justice Department has changed, and it has changed not for the better. It has changed because I see that the Justice Department is acting as a political entity.
I didn’t say partisan entity. I said as a political entity, making decisions that appear to be based on politics rather than the law and policy.
This legislation does one thing: it tries to elevate the Justice Department back to a nonpolitical entity, which it has, unfortunately, in my opinion, become a political entity. It is unfortunate that it has become that.
Some of the things that the Justice Department has done, and this legislation I think would prevent, would be to make sure that the Justice Department does not become a political entity in determining settlements of lawsuits that the Justice Department files on behalf of the American public. So what happens is that these lawsuits are settled, and then the Justice Department tells the defendant: We the people are suing.
You contribute to this entity and this will all go away. This case will be settled.
There won’t have to be a trial. So that is what has been happening over the last few years.
In 2012, the Department of Justice forced Gibson Guitars to pay a $50,000 ‘‘community service payment’’ to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, even though the Foundation was not a victim of the crime that Gibson Guitars was involved in. It had no connection to that case.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation received a bigger windfall again in 2012, when the government required British Petroleum—we all remember the BP spill—to donate $2.5 billion to the Foundation over a 5-year period in connection with the criminal investigation of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Discretion on the part of the Department of Justice on where the money goes smells, Mr. Chairman.
It doesn’t pass the smell test. In 2006, the Department of Justice forced a wastewater plant that had been accused of violating the Clean Water Act to give $1 million to the United States Coast Guard Alumni Association.
Now, I love the Coast Guard. We probably all love the Coast Guard.
But government shouldn’t be making a decision to give taxpayer money, or money, to any association. It is political decisions that the Justice Department has been making.
The wastewater treatment firm was also forced to pay another $1 million to the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority in Connecticut to fund unspecified environmental improvement projects. A recent attack on the DOJ bank settlement with Goldman Sachs required a $250 million fee to be assessed, financing donations toward affordable housing.
This is a political decision by the Justice Department. And there are many other examples that we will put into the RECORD.
This should not be a Department of Justice decision on a settlement. If they sue somebody and they settle the case, the money should go to the victims of that lawsuit.
It should not go to the Department of Justice’s discretion to pick political entities. Remember, I didn’t say partisan.
I just said political entities. Go to the victim. Go to the Victims of Crime Act.
Go to where crime victims get funds. Go back to the U.S. Treasury, but the money should not be discretionary with the Justice Department.
But let’s take the politics, the decision making, and the credibility—or lack of credibility—of the Justice Department in settling cases on behalf of the United States people, and take it away from the Justice Department and put it where it is supposed to go: to the victims of that lawsuit.
That is where it should go. And if it doesn’t go there, then it should go to the Victims of Crime Act, a Federal Government entity where funds for criminal violations go into a fund.
Or it should go to the United States Treasury. Remove the politics no matter who the President is.
Remove the politics of the Justice Department so they can regain credibility with the American people for being involved in justice, not politics. And that is just the way it is.