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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks at a Briefing on Law Enforcement for United States Attorneys


Welcome to the White House. Thank you all very much. Thank you, Dick, and thank all of you for that warm welcome here. But let me welcome you to the White House. I'm just delighted to have the U.S. attorneys here.

First, a word about our able Attorney General. I feel very confident about our Justice Department under his able leadership. And the integrity that Dick brings to this job is known nationwide, and I know it's going to enhance the work that you all are involved in every day of your lives, serving this country. So, I want to thank the Attorney General for all he is doing and to salute him in front of you who work closely with the Department and with him.

This is a time where we get around and tell lawyer's jokes. [Laughter] I was thinking of having Frank Donaldson come up -- Alabama's own -- to tell a few -- [laughter] -- but this is a kinder and gentler White House, and I'm not sure we need that. But -- [laughter].

You know, when I flew out to Wyoming on Monday, I got off Air Force One out there -- beautiful -- and Richard Stacy was there to shake my hand. And he said, ``I'm here to represent rural America.'' [Laughter] Simple, dramatic words. So, my name is George Bush, and I represent the United States. [Laughter] And with words like these, you and your assistants begin a Federal criminal trial. And it's a great and rare honor to represent the United States, and I'm honored to share that distinction with you. I share the pride that you feel every time you say that.

Two hundred years ago, a few months after becoming President, George Washington signed the act that gave birth to the offices that you hold. And it's a distinguished tradition. And one of the reasons that I was so delighted when Dick arranged for this little meeting was that I wanted to be able to tell you the respect I feel for the job that you all do. And, in the words of a former Attorney General, you represent ``one of the most powerful peacetime forces known to man.''

Peacetime? Well, I expect some of you would debate that. The situation in our streets has been aptly compared to a shooting war -- and that's why you're here, for an assembly unprecedented in modern times. And I did want you to know how strongly I feel -- and I'm grateful to Dick for his comments on this -- about violent crime in America, and how firmly I support what you all do every single day.

The problem today is violent crime -- some call it blood and thunder -- involving these high-powered weapons of a new class of criminals who impose the law of the jungle out of the barrel of a gun. And the fundamental responsibility for protecting America's streets and neighborhoods from violent crime must remain with our cities and States. But there's an increasing and important Federal role in fighting violent crime. And when leadership is called for, we've got to respond, we've got to seize the day.

One month ago, on a really somber, rainy day here, I was standing in front of the Capitol to commemorate the police officers who were slain in the line of duty. And many were agents or officers who had worked with you or the prosecutors that you supervise. And to honor their sacrifice, I called upon the United States Congress to join me in launching a new national strategy, a new partnership with America's cities and States, to take back the streets. And to do that we must raise our voices to correct an insidious tendency -- the tendency to blame crime on society rather than on the criminal.

And let me be extra clear on my own beliefs here today. I, like most Americans, believe that we can start building a safer society by first agreeing that society itself doesn't cause the crime -- criminals cause the crime. And we are foursquare behind the men and women like you who make sacrifices every day to protect the vulnerable, to safeguard the law-abiding, and to ensure that those who scorn justice are brought to justice. And we must hold people accountable for their actions. And I said it at the Capitol: A commonsense approach to crime means that criminals must know that if they commit a crime, they will be caught; and if caught, they will be prosecuted; and if convicted, they will do time.

A plain-speaking predecessor of mine was Harry Truman. And he said it pretty well 37 years ago when he met with the U.S. attorneys here at the White House. And he summed it up: ``We don't want any crooks left out of jail when they do crooked things.'' And nowhere is this precept more critical than in combating violent crime. The killing must stop, and it must stop now. And I'm here to ask your help -- to ask you to take a leadership role in your districts in helping put away our nation's most wanted: the privileged class of violent, repeat, and fugitive offenders hellbent on proving that crime really does pay.

The comprehensive plan that we sent to Congress seeks to take violent criminals off the streets with an attack on four fronts: new laws to punish them, new agents to arrest them, new prosecutors to convict them, and new prisons to hold them. And all four are essential. Your role is essential. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

The first link is some tough new laws, and everyone here is familiar with title 18's section 924(c). And, well, we have asked Congress to do for dangerous firearms what it has wisely done for dangerous drugs -- double the mandatory penalties. As we've said, the math is simple. Anyone using a semiautomatic for crime, or so much as having one in hand during a crime, will do an automatic 10 extra years in Federal prison -- no probation, no parole, no matter which judge they get.

And I'm asking each of you to see that this message is brought to life in the streets and courtrooms of your cities and towns. Because for these laws to be effective, we can't plea-bargain away the lives of our cops and our kids. And I want and expect that when suspects are arrested with serious weapons, that they'll face serious weapons charges. And so, last month, I directed the Attorney General to issue guidelines to ensure that, in all but the most exceptional cases, all firearms offenders are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

And those guidelines are being distributed today, I'm told, and you've been summoned to Washington to hear it from the top. No more loopholes, no conditional surrender, no more rolls of the dice -- if a criminal carries a gun, all deals are off. And when a criminal carries a gun and someone dies, I firmly believe that that person should pay with his life.

We're going to up the stakes for those who calculate that our criminal justice system is a crapshoot where the risks are worth the rewards. And when criminals think about reaching for a gun, they're going to know, and they're going to learn, that they will do time -- hard time. And yes, this policy may mean more trials. And I understand that firearms cases, like narcotics cases, are not always very popular with some on the bench. But it can be done and, in fact, already is being done -- even in districts with these overcrowded dockets like the Southern District of New York, where plea bargains for 924(c) violations have been banned since 1987.

And yes, we recognize that more offenders serving longer sentences obviously means more prison space. And here again we've matched our rhetoric with resources: an unprecedented .5 billion building program for federal prisons, boosting present capacity by 80 percent. These are tough budgetary times, as everybody here knows. But .5 billion is what I want to see go into this program.

And finally, yes, we also know how understaffed and overworked your offices are. And we've called in the cavalry -- Federal reinforcements are on the way. And if Congress will move -- and move quickly -- in addition to 825 new agents to investigate violent crime, I have asked the Congress to provide funding for 1,600 new prosecutors -- new positions for your district -- the largest one-time expansion in U.S. history -- with increases in both prosecutors and then the support staff. And we're also seeking over 150 new attorneys at this end, adding more muscle to the Department's Criminal Division.

These forces must be marshaled effectively. And the Attorney General is proposing to consolidate the strike forces so that they are led not from distant Washington, but by you -- the commanders at the front lines. And of course, new laws and new manpower aren't the only tools at your disposal. Your leadership on the law enforcement coordinating committees has already produced new initiatives to meet the challenge of violent crime. In Chicago, Tony Valukas has led a cooperative effort to rid the community of dangerous offenders by charging gang leaders and other repeat offenders under tough Federal armed-career-criminal laws. And in the last 2 years, working together, we've jammed the revolving door on 20 such criminals -- all are now serving life without parole in Federal prisons. And one of Tony's counterparts, the director of the Illinois State Police, responded to the Federal initiative by launching a violent crime task force. Similar partnerships on violent crime are being led by U.S. attorneys like Benito Romano up in New York, Jay Stephens right here in the District, Rob Bonner in L.A., whose promotion to the Federal district court was recently confirmed by the Senate.

And there are other innovations. To attack the profusion of gang and street violence, you may use some of your new slots to recruit seasoned ADA's or others trained in prosecuting gunshot crime. In those States where police are not protected by death penalty provisions, we should make full use of those Federal laws that permit the death penalty for cop-killers. And we should always use our unique Federal resources and expertise to wipe out the kind of violent crime that operates beyond the reach of any one State -- like the Rukn street gang whose members were convicted of conspiring with Libya to acquire military weapons for terrorist operations in America.

And in addition to my directive on plea bargaining, there's a second important message that I ask you to bring home to your districts. Your colleagues in State and local law enforcement need the same tools we've proposed for you: mandatory time for weapons offenders, no plea bargaining on guns, the death penalty for heinous crimes, and the kind of increased resources -- police, prosecutor, prisons -- that ensure these vicious thugs will be pursued, prosecuted, and put away for good.

United States attorneys are a breed apart -- invariably bright, committed, tenacious public servants. I really believe the country understands that about all of you. Four former U.S. attorneys hold leadership roles in our administration: Dick Thornburgh of Western Pennsylvania, [Secretary of Transportation] Sam Skinner of Northern Illinois, [Director of Central Intelligence] Bill Webster of Eastern Missouri, and [Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation] Bill Sessions of Western Texas. And we hope to see yet another -- Bob Fiske of New York, joining our ranks here soon.

Your efforts against violent crime are important, but no less important than the other law enforcement priorities that you have so ably addressed. And over the years, America has watched in admiration, and sometimes awe, as the accomplishments of your offices roll across America's television screens. And we're not going to tolerate the corruption of labor by organized crime, as the landmark Teamster settlement proved. And crime is crime, whether committed with a briefcase or a gun. And we will not tolerate greed over honest business, whether the business is defense contracting -- Operation Ill Wind; Wall Street -- where you're owed congratulations on last week's convictions; banking -- Polar Cap was the largest money laundering case in history; savings and loans -- where the legislation we've proposed will give you the tools you need to wipe out the financial fraud that has devastated that industry.

Nor will we tolerate civil rights violations, as the recent Klan convictions in Alabama prove. And as the recent indictments against two major drug gangs right here in Washington show, we will not tolerate the corruption of our youth by the poison they call cocaine. This scourge will stop. I said it in my Inaugural Address and I'll repeat here: This scourge will stop.

And it's easy to understand why our people are so grateful to those of you who have sacrificed to serve on the firing line -- whether in court or on the streets. And day and night your skypagers and mobile phones are active, as those you command monitor court-authorized intercepts or move undercover into the breach. It is exciting and principled work, an integral link in a system of justice that remains the envy of the world. In today's new effort, and in all your efforts, you have the gratitude, the respect, and the support of the American people -- and certainly of me. For your kids, for mine, for America's kids: Take back the streets.

And thank you for coming here today. Godspeed in the challenges ahead. And God bless you, your families, and the Nation that you work so ably to protect. Thank you for coming to the White House.

Note: The President spoke at 10:09 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Frank W. Donaldson, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, and Richard A. Stacy, U.S. Attorney for the District of Wyoming.

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