Transcript: Opening statement by Rep. John Conyers at the Justice Department oversight hearing on Operation Fast & Furious

Transcript of opening remarks by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) at the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the oversight of the Department of Justice on June 7, 2012: 

“Welcome, Attorney General [Eric] Holder.

“The opening statement is an opportunity for both of us here to set the tone for this hearing.

“But never in the career of Chairman [Lamar] Smith as the chair of this committee have I heard so many erroneous statements.

“And having never heard them before, I can assure him and you that I will be going over his statements and help him arrive at a more factual and impartial conclusion.

“Now, having said that, we welcome you once again to the House Judiciary Committee.

“This, by my count, is the eighth time this Congress that the Attorney General has made himself available for questioning.

“And this level of access is extraordinary, particularly when we compare your record to that of your immediate predecessors.

“Now, with respect to the continuing investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, I want to thank you for your patience and diligence.

“To date, the Department of Justice has provided over 7,600 pages of documents to the Congress. You made additional law enforcement-sensitive material available to us in dozens of briefings. You permitted us to question senior Department officials in hearings and transcribed interviews. And you yourself have appeared before this committee once every six months since the controversy became public.

“I hope that the tone of today’s discussion reflects the many courtesies that you and the Department of Justice have shown us in the past months.

“And I also want to commend you and the Department of Justice on a series of important accomplishments in the field of civil rights and voting rights – a couple of issues that I’ve paid special attention since I first became a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

“Enforcing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – the Department has aggressively enforced Section 5, which ensures that states with a history of discrimination can’t create additional barriers to minority access to the ballot box. The Department has already blocked discriminatory voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina. And I would encourage you to look at other similar troubling laws taking effect across the country.

“Stopping illegal purges of the voting rolls. Last week, the voting section wrote to the state of Florida demanding that they cease and desist from purging voters from the rolls. The practice was not submitted to the Department under Section 5 and would not have been approved if it had been.

“Protecting the rights of members of the armed service in terms of their voting, the Department has secured court orders and consent decrees in 14 jurisdictions to better enforce the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act.

“Restoring the integrity of the Civil Rights Division. After the office of the Inspector General and the Office of the Professional Responsibility completed their review of illegal partisan hiring practices under another Administration, their final report included recommendations for improving transparent hiring process at the Civil Rights Division itself. And under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, the division has fully adopted each of those recommendations and is now predominately staffed by attorneys with actual experience in the field of civil rights law.

“Enforcing the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The Department’s $335 million settlement with Countrywide Financial last December compensated families who were charged higher fees and interest rates because of their race or national origin. This enforcement action makes clear the Department will not hesitate to hold financial institutions accountable for lending discrimination.

“There are, of course, areas which we hope the Department will improve. But today, four years after the worst economic upheaval since the Great Depression, we are still looking to hold some of those Wall Street barons accountable.

“And according to one – let me conclude. My time has ended. I thank the Chairman.

“And yet, what we want to do here today is have a thorough and fair discussion, and I’m going to ask that our colleagues on this committee conduct themselves in a manner that is worthy of the Attorney General’s present appearance here. I thank the Chair.”