Remarks at the Swearing-in Ceremony for Richard L. Thornburgh as Attorney General of the United States

 

August 12, 1988

 

The President. Well, as you obviously know, we're here today to welcome into the Cabinet a man of great ability, America's 76th Attorney General, Richard Thornburgh.

 

Dick Thornburgh comes to this post following a career of enormous distinction: U.S. Attorney, Assistant Attorney General, Governor of one of our largest States. Dick Thornburgh has been all these and more. Along the way, he has put mobsters behind bars, he has fought for integrity in government, and has shown himself to be a leader under fire. And now, he's taking over a Department of Justice that is building one of the proudest records for fighting crime, particularly for fighting drug criminals, in our history.

 

Here are some facts that speak for themselves. Between 1976 and 1980, drug cases brought by the Justice Department fell by more than 44 percent. Convictions plunged by nearly 50 percent. Since 1980, Federal drug cases brought have almost tripled and convictions have gone up nearly 167 percent. To fight the war against drugs and organized crime, we've hired more than 4,000 new agents and prosecutors. And under Vice President Bush's leadership, Federal, State, and local law enforcement officials have been working together as never before to stop drug runners from smuggling illegal drugs into the United States. The results of that work and the work that Attorney General Meese led are incredible -- cocaine seizures are up by over 1,800 percent and over half a billion dollars in boats, bank accounts, homes and planes, and other property owned by drug lords was seized last year alone.

 

Today the drug war is international. When we took office, only two nations had drug eradication programs; today 23 do. And our Justice Department and the Italian Ministry of Justice have worked together to produce an unprecedented number of convictions against members of organized crime. Our prosecutors also recently won the conviction of one of the four founders of the largest Colombian cocaine cartel, Carlos Lehder. And not long ago, our agents arrested another major Latin American drug kingpin, Juan Ramon Matta. And he'll be cooling his heels behind bars for a long time to come.

 

In short, we are team-tackling the drug rings, hitting them at their heads and at their feet and everywhere in between.

 

Earlier this week there was an assassination attempt made on the Secretary of State. Initial reports said the attempt was linked directly or indirectly to the drug trade. If these reports are true, this desperate move is another sign of how badly we're hurting the drug trade. We must keep up and step up the pressure.

 

And Dick, you're just the man I want taking the helm at the Justice Department at this critical time. As a prosecutor and as a Governor, you earned a nationwide reputation for attacking the drug problem head on and cracking down on drug traffickers. And you've already indicated that as Attorney General you will again make the war against illegal drugs a top priority.

 

But I know that you can't do the job alone. The Senate recognized the importance of your nomination by acting on it with rare speed, and let me thank the Senate for its action. The Senators addressed this nomination with businesslike seriousness. In doing so, they put national interest above all other interests. And now it's time for the Senate to recognize, as well, the vital importance of this nation's judges to our efforts in the drug war. It's time to act on the 30 judicial nominations that we have submitted but have yet to reach a floor vote. Dick, I know that you mentioned the great need for those judges at your confirmation hearings. And recently the judicial conference declared a state of judicial emergency because of the many nominations that the Senate has hanging. Our law enforcement people can investigate and bring to court all the drug traffickers in the world, but without an adequately staffed judiciary of tough-minded judges, many of them may be back on the streets in no time.

 

Some say the Senate is simply playing politics as usual, but this is not politics as usual. In 1980 only 17 nominations had not been acted on by the end of the year. And of these, all but five had been nominated on or after the end of July. Well, some of our nominees have been waiting for a year and a half. For example, Pamela Rymer, who has already proven herself to be tough against crime as a district court judge, has been waiting for Senate approval as an appeals court judge since April, even though she received the ABA's highest rating of confidence. The Senate's inaction throws a monkeywrench into the wheels of the war on drugs. And Dick, I know that you'll continue to join me in urging the Senate to act quickly on our judicial nominees.

 

And in the meantime, we're grateful to have you as our nation's leading crime fighter. I know that you'll continue in your long tradition of serving the public with excellence, integrity, and distinction. So, Dick and Ginny, congratulations, and welcome aboard.

 

Attorney General Thornburgh. Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, my good friend and distinguished Justice Nino Scalia, family, friends, and colleagues, 1 month ago today, Mr. President, you announced your intention to nominate me to the high office of Attorney General of the United States. Today I undertake the duties of that office with pride and with enthusiasm.

 

As many here know, I have spent much of the last year and a half with young people -- students, the next generation of American leaders. And as you also know, Ginny and I have shared the wonderful experience of raising four fine sons of our own. I have accordingly acquired a special perspective on the priorities you and I share for Federal law enforcement, Mr. President. For example, I firmly believe that unless we sustain a vigorous effort to make drug trafficking and drug abuse public enemy number one, we could well stunt significantly the capacity of today's young people to contribute to a better quality of life for tomorrow's America.

 

I accept your challenge as well, Mr. President, to devote every resource of the Department of Justice, consistent with strict observance of the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens, to fight other unique threats to our traditional values and institutions -- organized crime and racketeering, official corruption, and white collar crime -- as well as to protecting the first civil right of every American, the right to be free from fear in our homes, on our streets, and in our communities. But as you have often noted, Mr. President, government cannot offer alone the sole solution to these problems. Citizens have obligations too.

 

Today I took my oath of office on a Bible once belonging to William Penn, the founder of my beloved Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I would commend to all Penn's reminder of the citizens' obligation in a free society. He observed: ``Justice is the insurance we have on our lives, and obedience is the premium we pay for it.'' Not a bad message for this great nation even today.

 

My thanks once again to you, Mr. President. And my thanks and Godspeed to all of you who have joined us for this most fulfilling occasion for me and for my family. Thank you very much.

 

Note: The President spoke at 11:57 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.