Remarks on Establishing the President's Commission on Organized Crime

July 28, 1983

Judge Kaufman and Attorney General Smith, Judge Webster [William H. Webster, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation], Chairmen Thurmond and Rodino, other distinguished members of this Commission, and ladies and gentlemen:

We're here today to redeem this administration's promise to do all in our power to break apart and cripple the organized criminal syndicates that for too long have been tolerated in America.

The power of these syndicates infects every part of our society. The cost in human and fiscal terms is incalculable. The climate of lawlessness that their very existence fosters makes this confederation of career criminals a costly and tragic part of our history.

The reasons for the mob's success are clear. Its tactics and techniques are well known: organizational cohesion and discipline, vows of secrecy and loyalty, insulation for its leaders from direct criminal involvement, bribery and corruption of law enforcement and public officials, violence and threats against those who would testify or resist this criminal conspiracy -- all of these have contributed to the curtain of silence that surrounds the mob.

Through the years, a few dedicated Americans have broken this curtain of silence and fought this menace. Their names are familiar -- prosecutor Thomas Dewey and Judge Samuel Seabury, Federal agent Eliot Ness, Senators Kefauver and McClellan, Attorney General Kennedy, investigative reporter Don Bolles. But for too long this fight has been left to a few dedicated policemen, prosecutors, journalists, or public officials, and too often their efforts have resulted in only temporary gains against this menace. The time has come to make these gains more permanent, to fully redeem the contributions of those who have waged a lonely battle against difficult odds. And the time has come for all of us to assist in the fight to break the power of the mob in America.

It's often been said that no government can eliminate or end the illegal activities that provide much of the revenue and support for organized crime. Well, that is only true as far as it goes. I agree that government cannot stop or abolish the human impulses that make racketeering profitable. But I also believe we'd have the capacity to break apart and ultimately destroy the tightly knit regional and national networks of career criminals who live off these activities.

Late last year, I announced a national strategy to expose, prosecute, and ultimately cripple organized crime in America. We're proceeding carefully with the elements of that strategy. Its final goal is the removal of a blot on American history that has lasted nearly a hundred years.

As I've said before, few weapons against organized crime have proven more effective or more important to law enforcement than the investigations of the Kefauver committee in the early fifties, the labor racketeering hearings of the McClellan committee in the midfifties, and the testimony of Federal informant Joseph Valachi before a Senate committee in the 1960's. While some other commissions on crime have been appointed since then, each has been of short duration and had neither the time nor the resources to fully investigate the syndicate and lay out a national program for its elimination.

I'm pleased to announce today that one of America's most distinguished jurists, Judge Irving Kaufman, from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, has agreed to lead a panel of 15 [20] distinguished Americans from diverse backgrounds and professions in this pursuit.

The purpose of this Commission, which will last for nearly 3 years, will be to undertake through public hearings a region-by-region exposure and analysis of organized crime, to measure its influence and impact on American society, and make judicial and legislative recommendations.

Judge Kaufman has won widespread praise for his leadership of a number of important commissions on judicial and law enforcement problems. After I expressed my gratitude to him today in the Oval Office for taking this assignment, we were joined by the rest of the Commission members, including Senator Thurmond and Congressman Rodino, the chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, whom, I am especially pleased to announce, have agreed to serve on this Commission. And I want, also, to acknowledge the generous assistance of Justice Potter Stewart, who, in addition to his other responsibilities, has agreed to play a vital role in this endeavor.

The membership of this Commission shows strong geographical balance, and it includes representatives of the judiciary, the Congress, the academic community, the private sector, and most important, law enforcement at all levels. We've been especially careful to include -- and I believe this will be one of the Commission's greatest strengths -- a number of individuals who, though not widely known, have had extensive, frontline experience with organized crime and are among the acknowledged experts in this field.

I know that some will wonder why another commission is needed. They'll ask, ``Aren't the Justice Department and the FBI and other law enforcement agencies damaging organized crime with their prosecutions? Don't congressional committees have the resources to conduct investigations?'' The answer to these questions is simply, yes. Recent prosecutions have done the mob considerable damage. And, yes, the Congress has, as I said before, done highly effective work with its investigations.

But prosecutions by themselves can never dig out the roots of a problem that reaches so deeply into our society. Nor is the Congress, which has many other matters on its agenda, in a position to take responsibility for the business of exposing organized crime, its latest techniques and inroads. That's why this Commission is so vitally important, one of the centerpieces in our strategy for a frontal assault on the mob in America.

I believe this Commission can expose to the American people the small group of career criminals who run the rackets, push drugs, corrupt policemen and public officials, and, ultimately, undermine the very basis of our democratic society itself. I believe this Commission can mobilize the American people against organized crime by triggering the kind of public support that is vital for its final isolation and elimination.

One reason we sought to include a broad cross section of America in the membership of this Commission stems from our firm belief that this battle can never be fully won at the Federal level. Only when we work in our States and communities to put out of business the racketeering that fills the coffers of organized crime, only when we fully expose and isolate those groups or individuals who work or do business with organized crime can we expect a final victory.

More than 23 years ago, as he sentenced defendants in a trial following the notorious Apalachin Conference in upstate New York, a Federal judge noted that the defendants before him had not stumbled into criminal activity thoughtlessly or because of underprivileged backgrounds. He referred to them as hardened, sophisticated criminals who thought of themselves as a group above the law, men who placed loyalty to each other above loyalty to their country and its law-abiding citizens. He noted that these men ``wear two faces,'' that they cloaked themselves in the respectability of charitable or civic organizations, even as they work to prey on innocent people and undermine the very moral foundations of our society.

Judge Kaufman, your words were true then, and unfortunately, they are true today. I want you and the members of the Commission here to know, as you seek subpena power from the Congress and go about the difficult tasks ahead of you, that you have my full support, the support of the Attorney General, who was instrumental in the formation of this Commission, and the support of this entire administration.

And I thank all of you here, and God bless you. And I am now going to sign the document that is necessary.

Still writing with these one-word pens. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 11:40 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.