Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said on Wednesday that he expects some of the roughly 245 Guantánamo Bay detainees to be tried in federal court, after the Justice Department gives each of their cases a thorough vetting.
“We’re looking at that now,” he said in response to a question at a roundtable discussion with reporters, his first in six weeks on the job. “My guess would be that some of those people would be tried in Article III courts.”
Holder also said there was a possibility that some of the 60 or so detainees who have been cleared of wrongdoing could be released in the United States. The attorney general said the review was ongoing, and emphasized that no decisions had been made.
The Justice Department is leading multi-agency reviews of the detainees and of detention and interrogation policies. The cabinet-level members of the task force met for the first time last week.
European countries have offered to help the Obama administration close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay within a year, and EU officials met with Holder earlier this week to discuss resettlement efforts. At Wednesday's meeting, Holder addressed their concerns about the American intelligence community providing full information on the prisoners. The attorney general pledged to turn over as much info as possible, without jeopardizing national security by revealing intelligence-gathering methods and sources.
Wednesday's 45-minute question-and-answer session swung from detainee issues to AIG bonuses to the department’s fraud efforts to pot.
Holder disclosed that the Justice Department was advising the Treasury Department “to make them aware of what legal abilities they have” to recover $165 million in bonuses to the insurance giant’s executives. The retention bonuses were agreed to before the $173 billion government bailout was initiated last summer.
“We have people in the Justice Department in various divisions who are trying to examine what tools the Treasury Department has in that regard.” he said.
The AIG problem focused a larger discussion about the Justice Department’s ongoing efforts “to get a handle” on whether criminal misconduct contributed to the financial crisis.
“The American people have a rightful expectation that this administration, this Justice Department, is examining this financial crisis to see whether or not a component of that has to do with illegal, inappropriate, fraudulent activity,” Holder said.
The attorney general pledged to reinvigorate what he called the Justice Department’s “traditional side” -- such as the criminal, civil, and civil rights divisions -- but not at the expense of the department’s national security efforts.
“They’ll get frankly more attention from the attorney general with regard to these issues,” Holder said.
Holder has asked President Barack Obama for more resources in the proposed 2010 budget to cover additional FBI agents and prosecutors for increased enforcement. But he left unanswered specific questions about the department’s plans, except to say that cooperation with state attorneys general and other federal agencies would be crucial.
Holder said that discussions about a possible mortgage fraud task force were ongoing, and that he was in the process of reviewing investigations and matters in the U.S. attorneys’ offices and in the department's Criminal Division. And he added that enforcement efforts are already underway, pointing to the FBI’s mortgage task force, which is currently investigating more than 1,800 mortgage fraud cases, according to bureau officials.
“We need to expand those efforts and really try to get a handle on whether one of the causes of the financial crisis is a result of fraud or criminal misconduct,” Holder said.
At one point the conversation veered to marijuana, and whether the department was moving away from the Bush administration's policy of raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in California, which violate federal law but comport with state law.
Holder said the department intended to pursue “those people who violate both federal and state law.”
"To the extent that people do that and try to use medical marijuana laws as a shield… those are the organizations, the people, we will target,” he said.
The answer created some confusion. Did he mean that medical marijuana dispensaries were off the hook?
“Well, what I was trying to say was that...given the limited resources that we have, our focus will be on people and organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that is inconsistent with federal law and state law. That’s the policy.”
There was some color, too. For instance: The AG has an iPhone, apparently. And it’s department tradition that the attorney general pick a portrait of a former attorney general to hang in their office. Holder’s pick: Janet Reno, whom he served as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration.
The AG also said he enjoys the feel of a newspaper, lamented the industry’s decline, and said he would take that into account in antirust enforcement. The topic arose when a reporter asked about a letter House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent to Holder, urging him to give Bay Area papers some leeway in consolidating business operations to stay afloat.