Thank you, John, for that kind introduction. I am grateful to you for your outstanding leadership as both Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and now Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division. It is a pleasure to join you and many other distinguished members of the Justice Department family, in celebrating today’s award recipients.
I started my career in the Criminal Division. They swore me in on December 3, 1990. I took the same oath as you.
Nobody ever swears you out.
Our oath of office is an obligation. It requires us to support and defend the Constitution; to bear true faith and allegiance; and to well and faithfully discharge our duties.
I am so proud to work with you to defend the integrity and independence of the Justice Department; to protect public safety; to preserve civil rights; to seek justice; to advance the rule of law; and to promote public confidence.
I want to speak briefly today about those last two issues, the rule of law, and public confidence.
I have served under nine Attorneys General. On every floor of this Main Justice Building, there are reminders of heroes, mentors and friends who have worked here.
They taught me that the Department of Justice stands for the principle that every American deserves equal protection under the rule of law.
Our enemies deserve it, and our friends deserve it. They deserve it whether they are guilty or innocent. They deserve it whether they are rich or poor. They deserve it whether they are Republican or Democrat.
The rule of law is not just about words. It depends upon the character of the people who enforce the law.
Judge Learned Hand said, “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.”
In this Department, Justice is our name. And justice is our mission.
Justice is not just about winning a particular case, or sending a particular person to prison. It is about a fair and impartial process.
A prosecutor must be zealous in the pursuit of truth, which is central to the achievement of justice.
Truth is about solid evidence, not strong opinions.
Our job is always to find the truth and make the right choice.
The right choice is not always the easy choice.
Our Department employs 115,000 people. Sometimes people do the wrong thing, or make mistakes, and they deserve criticism.
Many times, people get criticized even when they do the right thing. That is the nature of our work.
Promoting public confidence in our work is sometimes challenging, particularly in the modern era of nonstop so-called breaking news.
Talking heads and commentators are not constrained by the need to find credible eyewitnesses and determine the facts beyond any reasonable doubt before reaching a verdict.
Sometimes critics are not constrained by the facts at all.
But we must remain focused on the things that matter.
It is rare that we take a step back from the hectic pace of our daily lives to celebrate accomplishments.
Today’s event serves an important function: by recognizing excellence, we promote excellence in the future.
I am proud to call attention to the extraordinary contributions of our dedicated colleagues. These hardworking men and women are united in the goal of protecting people from harm. Today we thank them for their tireless service and sacrifice over the past year; for their commitment to the highest standards of professionalism; and for their good judgment, integrity, and strong work ethic.
It is an honor to help welcome all of your proud family members and friends here today. Your support is essential to everything that our awardees have accomplished.
Every day, this year’s Criminal Division award recipients strive to fulfill the Department’s central mission: equal justice under law. You have helped achieve justice in cities, towns, and communities across the country. You have worked tirelessly to keep dangerous criminals off the streets; to safeguard the American public; to thwart fraud and corporate greed; to fight public corruption; and to shield our nation’s most vulnerable citizens from violence and exploitation.
Your work saves lives.
Over the past year, our award recipients made outstanding and historic strides in advancing the cause of justice.
You sought justice for HSI Special Agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila, who were ambushed by Mexican cartel members as they drove in an armored vehicle with diplomatic plates. Special Agent Zapata was killed as a result of that attack, and Special Agent Avila wounded. As a result of your efforts, two of their attackers were sentenced to life in prison.
You dismantled AlphaBay, the largest black market in the history of the world, which offered hundreds of thousands of listings, including drugs, weapons, and other illegal materials.
You have worked feverishly over the past year to award more than $1.1 billion to more than 2,000 U.S. victims of terrorist acts sponsored by foreign nations.
You worked collaboratively to use advanced technology to thwart a global child exploitation enterprise. Your work in that case alone resulted in 348 arrests, the prosecution of more than 50 alleged hands-on child sex abusers, and the identification or rescue of more than 50 American children subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation at the hands of these defendants.
You secured the conviction and sentence of one of the world’s largest manufacturers of airbags for causing 11 deaths and injuring more than 100 of our fellow citizens.
And you obtained a forfeiture of $586 million in one of the most significant Bank Secrecy Act and consumer fraud cases in history.
In doing this work, you have shown a tremendous capacity to work collaboratively in service of our common goals. Your shared drive and passion for the Department’s mission are critical to the successes we celebrate today.
Today we recognize 173 talented and deserving attorneys, investigators, paralegals, support staff members, and law enforcement personnel. But I also want to take this opportunity to thank every one of the Division’s employees and their families for all that they have done in the name of public service. Your exemplary service and sacrifice to this Department and this nation inspire us all.
I want to leave you with this final thought.
Attorney General Robert Jackson stood in this very spot 76 years ago. He told the assembled crowed that “the citizen’s safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches [the] task with humility.”
So be zealous. Be honest. But always be humble and kind.