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Booker Criticizes Sessions for Misguided Shift in Justice Department Resources

Sessions’s move a “thinly veiled attempt to ramp up failed War on Drugs”

May 11, 2017
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s remarks on the opioid crisis at a summit in West Virginia, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) criticized the Attorney General’s misguided effort to address the epidemic by cutting funding from preventative programs and using those resources to hire prosecutors. 

In a letter to the Attorney General, Booker blasted him for what amounts to doubling down on the failed policies of the War on Drugs. 

Sessions recently ordered the Justice Department to hire as many as 20 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) prosecutors at the expense of cutting funding for a program that works to prevent prescription drugs from entering the black market. 

“We appreciate the agency’s acknowledgement of this critical public  health problem [opioid addiction], and we share the same goal . . . However, the DEA’s purported rationale for hiring twenty prosecutors is baffling considering it is taking away funds from a critical drug diversion program,” the letter states. 

“This effort is a thinly veiled attempt to ramp up the failed War on Drugs and prosecute more nonviolent low-level offenders,” the letter adds, noting that in the DEA’s 40-plus year existence it has never had its own prosecutors. 

“The DEA is charged with combatting drug smuggling in the United States. Its authorizing statute says nothing about prosecuting cases.”

Senator Booker has been a vocal critic of the Attorney General’s actions on justice issues ranging from police consent decrees to mandatory minimum sentencing to sanctuary cities. Along with Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), Booker led the resistance against Sessions’s nomination in January, becoming the first sitting Senator to testify against another sitting Senator during a confirmation hearing. He was also one of the first Senators to call for Sessions to resign following revelations that the Attorney General had withheld key information about his contact with Russia during his confirmation process.

Last month, Booker led a letter pushing back against Sessions’s move to review police consent decrees and in March, he led a letter to the Attorney General criticizing Sessions’s for signaling that the Justice Department would place a renewed emphasis on mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses. Sessions has yet to respond to either letter.

 

Full text of the letter is below. 

May 11, 2017

VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION

The Honorable Jeff Sessions

Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20530 

Dear Attorney General Sessions:

I am writing to you to express deep concern with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) plans to hire as many as twenty Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) prosecutors by cutting funding from a program that works to prevent controlled substances like prescription drugs from entering the black market. We ask you to reconsider this unprecedented move that will not make our communities safer nor help combat the opioid use and heroin abuse epidemic. Rather, ramping up enforcement efforts at the expense of resources targeted for drug diversion programs, will only reinvigorate the failed War on Drugs and drastically increase the federal prison population. 

On March 21, 2017, the DEA published a notice in the federal register of its intention to hire twenty prosecutors to prioritize new drug trafficking, money laundering, and asset forfeiture cases. According to a DEA spokesman, the purpose of the proposal is to fight a growing opioid abuse problem. We appreciate the agency’s acknowledgement of this critical public health problem, and we share the same goal. As you know, 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day, making opioid abuse and addiction one of the most devastating epidemics in our nation. However, the DEA’s purported rationale for hiring twenty prosecutors is baffling considering it is taking away funds from a critical drug diversion program.

To fund the hiring of twenty prosecutors, the DEA is proposing to divert funds from the Diversion Control Fee Account, which is used to fund the agency’s Diversion Control Program (DCP). The DCP’s mission is to “prevent, detect, and investigate the redirection from legitimate channels of controlled pharmaceuticals . . . .”[1] To carry out its mission, the DCP conducts investigations, works with entities that handle controlled substances to reduce the risk of pharmaceutical product diversion, and monitors the distribution of controlled substances, among other activities. These activities are integral to efforts to combat our nation’s opioid epidemic, as diverted drugs have played a significant role in this public health crisis.       

Under current law, the DCP must be fully funded through the Diversion Control Fee Account. 

Therefore, through this notice, it would appear you are advocating for the DEA to redirect vital resources from a program that is designed to ensure that prescription drugs are not used and sold illicitly. This effort is a thinly veiled attempt to ramp up the failed War on Drugs and prosecute more nonviolent low-level offenders. Additionally, never before in the 40-plus year history of the DEA has it had its own prosecutors. The DEA is charged with combatting drug smuggling in the United States. Its authorizing statute says nothing about prosecuting cases.

I believe we share the goal of providing resources to those suffering from addiction, eradicating the drug supply chain, and targeting drug traffickers. But history has shown that misguided arrests and harsh sentencing requirements drive mass incarceration and perpetuate disparate impacts across our country. I urge you to reconsider this proposal. 

                                                            Sincerely,

                                                            Cory A. Booker

                                                            United States Senator