QUESTION #3: What is the purpose of the role for the U.S. Department of Justice, and Jeff Sessions now that he has been confirmed as the attorney general?


David New:

“I’m so very, very happy that Senator Jeff Sessions is now the confirmed attorney general. He is a godsend for sure. One of the things that did come up during the confirmation process was the confusion of whether or not the attorney general works for the people directly, or does he work for the president? Well, the answer is very clear. The Department of Justice is part of the executive branch of the government, which means he reports to the president, and the president can retire him if he wishes to do so, so he works for the American people. He is the number one cop, but he does it under the authority of the president of the United States.

Now the Department of Justice was originally established in 1789 under the Judiciary Act and it was a one-person department for an awful long time. It did, in the beginning, give legal advice, not only to the president, but to the Congress as well, but that stopped in 1819. Early attorney generals had their own law practice, because there just wasn’t enough work for them to do in the federal government, and so that went on for a long time where they had their own law practice as well as working for the United States government. Talking about a conflict of interest, in those days they didn’t have that problem, at least not the way they define it now.

The U.S. Justice Department as we know it now was established by President Grant on June 22, 1870. What that did is it created several divisions. First, it made all the U.S. attorneys reported to the attorney general. Before that, they were all part of the U.S. Department of Interior, but now they come under the U.S. Department of Justice, under the Attorney General. Also, the U.S. Department of Justice prosecutes all federal crimes, and, of course, see, in 1870, President Grant created the Office of Solicitor General, which is the office that represents the United States government before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Of course, there are several key divisions, the FBI is a subset of the U.S. Department of Justice, so is the DEA, so is the Federal Bureau of Prisons. There’s a Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Marshals, there’s a Tax Division, there’s an Antitrust Division, and there’s about 105,000 employees in the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s a big organization. It does report to the president.”