November 06, 2017

Terrorism, violent crime top priorities Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein tells ABA criminal justice group

Pledging not to make any news, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said his office will continue to focus on the department’s top priority of combating terrorism.

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein delivered the keynote address at the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s Award Luncheon

“As the recent attack in New York make clear, evildoers who are determined to disrupt our way of life continually threaten us. National security is an important part of my work. We must remain vigilant in our efforts to identify terrorists and disrupt them and use the legal tools available to us to our maximum ability,” said Rosenstein, who was the keynote speaker for the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s Award Luncheon on Friday, Nov. 3, at the Westin Washington Hotel in Washington, D.C.

He said the department must continue to advocate for the continued use of these legal tools, one of which is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. “There is a debate in Congress about whether or not to reauthorize section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a provision that is very heavily relied upon by the United States and by our allies to protect innocent people against terrorists,’’ Rosenstein said. “We are hopeful that stature will be reauthorized.’’

During his nearly 20-minute speech, after which he took only two questions, Rosenstein also spoke about other U.S. Department of Justice priorities, including a rise in violent crime and the opioid crisis, which President Donald Trump recently declared a “public health emergency.” He did not mention or make reference to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, for which Rosenstein has oversight. “My daughter said do not make any news so you can turn off the cameras,’’ Rosenstein joked, referring to a number of media present in the audience.  

Rosenstein said violent crime occupies a lot of the department’s time. Nationwide, he said the violent crime rate increased by 3.4 percent in 2016 and 3.3 percent in 2015. “Those increases each represented the largest single-year spikes in violent crime since 1991,” Rosenstein said.

Most troubling, the national murder rate increased by 20 percent over the last two years. And some of the nation’s major cities, like Chicago and Baltimore, have experienced even larger increases. “President  Trump and Attorney General Sessions have directed the department to reverse that trend,” Rosenstein said, noting the recent creation of the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety.  “The task force made a series of recommendations to the attorney general, and the department is working to implement them,” he said.  Another initiative is the Project Safe Neighborhoods program, which was launched in 2001 and encourages federal law enforcement officials to work with their state and local counterparts to take violent offenders off the streets. He also noted that the department is hiring new assistant U.S. attorneys to help in the cause.

The unprecedented opioid crisis, Rosenstein said, is another major challenge for the department. The overdose numbers are astounding.  In 2016, there were more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths compared to 8,000 deaths in 1990.

“Opioids are driving this increase in overdose deaths,” said Rosenstein, adding that President Trump’s declaration of the opioid crisis as public health emergency “will remove red tape and redirect federal resources to help fund treatment efforts.”

Rosenstein, who was appointed to his position by President Trump in April replacing the fired Sally Yates, concluded his talk by noting that principled disagreement is important in a democracy. “If prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed all the time, I would be very concerned,” he said, reminding the audience of a quote mocking lawyers from a William Shakespeare play that said, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

“Shakespeare did not mean for it to be taken literally. On the contrary, the remark is intended to be ironic. The speaker is a criminal. Shakespeare’s point is that without lawyers, nobody would need to follow the law,” Rosenstein explained. “In a time of strong political passions, I think that lawyers have a responsibility to adopt the right tone and demonstrate why law is so essential to the peaceful resolution of disputes. We should conduct our debates in good faith, based on an objective analysis of the evidence and an honest discussion of the merits.”

The awards luncheon honored five recipients for their contributions to the legal profession. The honorees were:

  • Charles R. English Award: Nina Marino, Kaplan Marino, Beverly Hills, Calif.

  • Frank Carrington Crime Victim Attorney Award: Heather Cartwright, Department of Justice, Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism, Washington, D.C.

  • Norm Maleng Minister of Justice Award: Richard Schmack, former DeKalb County state attorney, Sycamore, Ill.; and Robert Zauzmer, assistant U.S. attorney, Eastern District of Pennsylvania; pardon attorney, Clemency Project

  • Raeder-Taslitz Award: Ellen Podgor, Stetson University College of Law, DeLand, Fla.

The luncheon was part of the Criminal Justice Section’s two-day 10th Annual Fall Institute, which included a white collar crime town hall entitled, “The Politically Charged Investigations: The Washington Insider’s Guide” on Thursday, Nov. 2. The Friday session featured four plenary sessions – “The Ongoing Challenge of Preventing and Addressing Hate Violence”; Privacy in the Age of Snapchat: Practical and Policy Solutions for Nonconsensual Porn”; “Criminal Justice Reform in the Trump Era”; and Escalating Immigration Enforcement: Impact Upon the Criminal Justice System.”