Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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Grassley Seeks More Aggressive Oversight of Justice Department

Apr 29, 1997


Grassley Seeks More Aggressive Oversight of Justice Department


Senator Cites Famed Arrogance of FBI, Negligent Leadership


Jill Kozeny

202/224-1308


Seeking more aggressive and consistent oversight by Congress and constructive responses from the nation's top federal law enforcement agency, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today challenged Attorney General Janet Reno to address recent leadership failures at the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

"I've been very disappointed in the Justice Department's response to oversight inquiries I and others have made in recent months regarding systemic management problems at the Department and the FBI," Grassley said. "Numerous investigations I am conducting have been frustrated by the Department's unresponsiveness." Grassley asked Reno about each of these issues during her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Grassley serves as chairman of the subcommittee charged with administrative oversight and the courts.

In particular, Grassley questioned the Attorney General about a possible violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits military personnel from engaging in domestic law enforcement activities. Grassley has obtained documents which show that Army Col. John Ellis has been assigned to the FBI as Deputy Section Chief for Domestic Counter-terrorism. Documents show that Ellis has line authority and supervisory authority, as well as FBI credentials. "Whether this is a violation of Posse Comitatus or not, I thought we had learned an important lesson from Ruby Ridge and Waco: not to militarize the FBI," Grassley said. "If we learned that lesson, why in the world would the FBI put an active duty, special forces, full colonel in the number two slot for domestic counter-terrorism?"

Overall, Grassley said the leadership problems at the FBI "closely parallel the problems I uncovered during the 1980s at the Department of Defense. The problems are marked by institutional arrogance and a focus on empire-building instead of spending tax dollars effectively. Major problems result, as we've seen with the FBI crime lab, when leadership spends its energy on input instead of output, and concerns itself with image rather than product."

Grassley said Congress for too long has "turned a blind eye" toward the FBI. "Clearly, more aggressive oversight is warranted. An Inspector General's (IG) report issued this month found all kinds of wrongdoing in the crime lab." Grassley said the exact same allegations were presented to Director Freeh in February of 1994. "However, after just three months of review, Freeh whitewashed the lab's serious shortcomings," Grassley said.

In making his case for better oversight by Congress, Grassley said, " it's counter-productive to say Director Freeh is trying to fix the problem, just get out of his way. The truth is, the Director has resisted efforts to fix the problems." Grassley said that after whitewashing allegations of wrongdoing at the FBI crime lab three years ago, Freeh and/or his subordinates this year attempted to fire the individual who was reporting the problems. Grassley said Freeh went even further when he engaged in an effort from January until April of this year to mislead the public about what the IG report said. Finally, Grassley admitted that Freeh was the first FBI Director to suggest the crime lab be accredited. "Yet we're no closer today to accreditation than we were three years ago when he suggested it. In fact, the timetable has been postponed yet again for another six months," he said.

"Recent fiascoes have shaken the public's confidence in the FBI. But it's not time to circle the wagons. Instead, it's time to open up to constructive scrutiny," Grassley said. "It's part of Congress' responsibility to identify problems at the Justice Department and to help fix them. The civil liberties and the protection of every American are at stake when the FBI does not meet the very highest standards. My goal is to restore the public's confidence in federal law enforcement."