Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco discusses how the Department of Justice is countering new and evolving threats to the rule of law posed by hostile nation states, from transnational repression to foreign malign influence.
This meeting is part of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy.
BELLINGER: Good morning and welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting with Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco. I’m John Bellinger, a partner at Arnold & Porter here in Washington, and the Council’s adjunct senior fellow in international and national security law, and I will be presiding over today’s discussion.
We’ll joined by Council members here in the room, and many people watching and listening online. This session is fully on the record, including the question and answer period.
I have known our speaker, Lisa Monaco, for twenty-five years. I think this is one of the introductions I’ve been able to do where I’ve known the person the longest. Lisa and I began working together at the Department of Justice in 1998. She was fresh off of a clerkship on the Third Circuit, and had been selected by Attorney General Janet Reno to serve as her counsel. How one managed to do that fresh out of law school, we will have to ask. I was serving later in my career as counsel for national security matters in the Criminal Division. This was before the National Security Division was created. Lisa then proceeded to spend twenty-one of the next twenty-six years of her legal career in the federal government, seventeen of those in the Department of Justice.
She served as the assistant U.S. attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office here in D.C. She was chief of staff to FBI Director Bob Mueller. She then served in the first term of the Obama administration as the assistant attorney general for the National Security Division. And then she served the entire second term of the Obama administration as the homeland security advisor to President Obama in the White House. She was confirmed as the deputy attorney general two years ago, in April of 2021. Senator Dick Durbin at the time called her, “arguably the most qualified person ever nominated for this position.” I can certainly add, with personal certainty, that she has more knowledge and more experience dealing with the topics that she’s about to talk about—threats to national security from hostile nation-states—than any other deputy attorney general in history.
So, Lisa Monaco, the floor is yours. Welcome to the Council. (Applause.)
MONACO: Thank you so much, John. And good morning, everyone. It is great to be here. I’m a proud member of CFR. And it’s really nice, and it’s always nice, to be here, as well as at the Council in New York, to engage in conversation. Which I’m looking forward to doing after I make a few remarks. And I want to thank John for that generous introduction. Although the fact that he provided the dates of our original meeting, not sure how I feel about that. I’ll take that up with John a little bit later.
Tomorrow President Biden will convene the second Summit for Democracy, bringing together leaders from more than a hundred nations around the world, along with leaders from civil society and the private sector. And he’ll do so to galvanize and reaffirm our commitment as a nation to democracy. The Department of Justice has a unique role to play in our nation’s efforts to strengthen and to defend democracy, both at home and abroad. After all, we are the only department in our nation’s government that is named for a value—justice. And our founding principle is to uphold the bedrock of every functioning democracy around the world, and that is the rule of law.
Fundamental to that principle is our commitment to ensure that all Americans, regardless of their political beliefs, enjoy the right to participate in free and fair elections, to uphold the right to worship openly and to speak freely, even—in fact, especially—when that speech involves criticism directed at the government. And to treat like cases alike, and all people equally, so that there is not one rule for the powerful and another rule for the powerless. Today hostile nation-states seek to challenge our democracy and our rule of law efforts at home and around the world. From covert plots to kill dissidents on U.S. soil to overt efforts to topple democracy in Ukraine, our adversaries seek to undermine the rule of law and to subvert democracy.
So today I want to highlight how the Justice Department is responding to global threats to the rule of law, starting with our response to transnational repression. Activists, journalists, and others who are fighting for
freedom around the world are under threat from autocracies that seek to silence them, and that have embarked on campaigns of intimidation, unlawful imprisonment, violence, and even murder. According to recent data from Freedom House, about 38 percent of the global population live in countries that are not free—the highest percentage since 1997. Now repressive regimes, including those in Iran, China, and Russia, are not satisfied with crushing dissent in their own countries, in their own cities, and in their own countrysides. Instead, they are extending their authoritarian reach across the globe, including to our shores, to suppress dissidents and critics who are exercising their fundamental rights to speak freely and to organize politically.
This past January, the Justice Department exposed a murder-for-hire plot directed against a prominent critic of the Iranian regime right here in the United States to silence her for speaking out against human rights abuses in Iran, and for speaking up for the rights of women. Our agents and prosecutors exposed that plot, as they did another plot by a member of the Iranian IRGC to assassinate a former United States national security advisor. But it isn’t just Iran. The Chinese government also goes great lengths to silence dissent outside of China. The Justice Department has brought charges against four Chinese intelligence officers and their agent who kept tabs on activists advocating for democracy worldwide, leading to PRC arrests of dissidents in Hong Kong.
In another scheme, we charged a Chinese national, working at the direction of the PRC’s Ministry of State Security, with orchestrating a campaign to undermine the U.S. congressional candidacy of a military veteran who was a leader of the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. As alleged, these brazen acts of transnational repression violate U.S. law. They infringe on our sovereignty. And perhaps most critically, they’re an attack on our most fundamental values. Make no mistake, we will use every tool to expose the repressive tactics of autocratic regimes and force their agents to answer for their unlawful behavior. And we will support our allies and our partners in doing the same.
We’ll also deny repressive regimes the technology they exploit as a means to repress. Now, while some technologies can be employed lawfully to further legitimate national security objectives, they must be monitored carefully, subjected to robust oversight and controls to prevent their proliferation and abuse, and misuse. That’s why the administration, the Department of Justice, and our interagency partners are actively working to rein in the proliferation and abuse of technology to repress.
First, we are ramping up enforcement. We’ve launched the Disruptive Technology Strike Force, a collaboration of U.S. law enforcement agencies led by the Justice Department and the Commerce Department. The strike force brings together our top experts to attack tomorrow’s national security threats today. We use intelligence and data analytics to target illicit actors, enhance public-private partnerships to harden our supply chains, and spot threats to critical assets like semiconductors. Our goal is simple, but it’s essential: To strike back against adversaries trying to siphon and abuse our best technologies.
The administration is also closely monitoring the proliferation of commercial spyware, which can enable unknown actors to remotely access electronic devices, extract their content, and manipulate their components, all without a user’s knowledge or consent. Second, the department is ensuring former U.S. government personnel don’t unlawfully transfer their skills—the ones they learned through employment here in the United States government—to become mercenaries for the highest autocratic bidder. Just last week the director of national intelligence issued binding guidance to our intelligence community to implement important new statutory restrictions on former intelligence community officials seeking employment with foreign governments or companies.
And, third, we’re looking inward so that the United States government is not inadvertently catalyzing the success of irresponsible companies in this ecosystem. This starts by ensuring that our own legitimate need for certain technologies for lawful national security purposes is not directly or indirectly supporting irresponsible actors in this space. To that end, yesterday the president signed a new executive order which identifies, for the first time, factors that departments and agencies must consider before using sophisticated cybersurveillance tools. These factors include whether there is credible evidence that a foreign government has used or is likely to
use the commercial spyware against activists, dissidents, or other actors in order to intimidate, curb dissent, or political opposition.
Now, not all threats to the rule of law involve repression. Sometimes they involve the purposeful degradation of institutions that sustain law and order. So this brings me to my second topic, and that’s corruption. For decades, the Justice Department has worked to uphold and to hold accountable both bad actors who use bribes to undermine the rule of law, and corrupt officials who abuse positions of public trust for private gain. But of course, corruption isn’t limited to the pursuit of private gain. Some nations use corruption as malicious tools of statecraft. Hollowing out institutions in other countries to extend their own anti-democratic influence.
Early in his presidency, and recognizing that strategically weaponized corruption can undermine democracy, President Biden designated the fight against corruption as a core national security interest. And what followed was the first-ever U.S. strategy on countering corruption. It was released at the first Summit for Democracy, and now serves as a blueprint for a comprehensive, coordinated global effort. As part of that effort, the Department of Justice is using every tool at its disposal to increase the resilience of democracies and democratic institutions by strengthening anti-corruption measures.
Through active enforcement of anti-bribery laws, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and anti-money-laundering statutes, we are holding corrupt account—actors accountable for offering, paying, and promising to pay bribes. And we’re using forfeiture and money laundering laws to pursue bribe-takers and their ill-gotten gains through our Kleptocracy Initiative. We’re also vigorously enforcing sanctions against Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and others, to disrupt illicit finance schemes and to combat the use of corruption and violence to destabilize democracy and the rule of law.
For example, within days of Russia’s unprovoked aggression and invasion of Ukraine, we established Task Force KleptoCapture, bringing together law enforcement from across our government to enforce the sweeping sanctions, export restrictions, and economic countermeasures implemented in respond to Russia’s brutality. And we’re directing seized assets to the benefit of the people of Ukraine. To date, we have successfully seized, forfeited, or otherwise restrained over $500 million in assets belonging to Russian oligarchs and their proxies, from luxury yachts in Spain and Fiji, to houses in the Hamptons.
Now, in addition to their efforts to repress people and degrade institutions, hostile states are engaged in more subtle and sophisticated acts of dividing societies, using covert or other secret means to mislead the American public, to sow divisions, and to tear us apart with a hidden hand. And that brings me to the issue of foreign malign influence. Last summer the department charged a Russian national with a year’s-long effort to recruit and direct political groups in Florida, Georgia, and California on behalf of the Russian FSB. The Russian national directed these groups to publish pro-Russian propaganda and coordinated coverage of this activity in Russian media outlets.
The American people have a right to know when a foreign government seeks to influence policy decisions or public opinion here in the United States of America. At the Justice Department, we’re doing everything we can to expose this behavior. So we’re strengthening our enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, to bolster transparency of foreign activities here in the United States. And in the coming months, we will be issuing new rules to clarify the range of activities that will require registration under the act. We’re working with Congress to modernize our FARA regime and to give us tools—the tools that we need—in response to today’s threat environment.
Our adversaries are absolutely relentless when it comes to finding new ways to undermine our institutions. So it’s incumbent on us to update and refresh our tools to combat their malign influence. But upholding the rule of law isn’t just about playing offense. It’s also about playing defense. Identifying vulnerabilities and shoring up our defenses to harmful foreign activities. For example, we know that under its national security law the PRC government can require companies doing business in China to hand over data in their control and can use those
same authorities to influence content and spread misinformation. And we know this creates significant risks to U.S. citizens.
That’s why we must protect against acute systemic technology-based threats from foreign adversaries to the security and safety of the American people. Autocratic regimes have become more creative, more brazen in their efforts to weaken democratic institutions, to spread corruption, and sow instability across the globe. The United States and its allies and partners must stand together against these efforts. And that’s exactly what the Summit for Democracy is all about. In using every tool at our disposal, the Department of Justice will do what it does best, uphold the rule of law, protect the civil rights and liberties that are central to the United States and to all democracies across the globe.
Thanks very much for having me and I look forward to the conversation. (Applause.) Thank you. Otherwise, I wouldn’t possibly know where to sit. (Laughter.)
BELLINGER: Well, thank you. That was great. Of course, as you know, these issues have been near and dear to my heart for twenty-five years. So listening to you talk about what the Department of Justice is doing to combat them is particularly interesting to me. I told the deputy attorney general that I put on my Department of Justice cufflinks today, in her honor. So for the next fifteen or twenty minutes I’m going to ask some questions. And then at the end of that we will have the normal question and answer period. So collect your questions and we will the go back and forth between the audience here and those online.
So a lot of hostile influences to talk about. We can’t get to all of them, but let me start with perhaps the hostile influence in chief right now, Vladimir Putin, and Russia, and Ukraine . So he was indicted and an arrest warrant issued for him by the International Criminal Court just a couple of weeks ago. The United States is not a party to the International Criminal Court. And it’s been widely reported that the administration is tied up in knots about whether to support the ICC or not, because of Defense Department concerns. Ambassador for War Crimes Beth Van Schaack yesterday did announce that we would support a separate tribunal in Ukraine for aggression.
But if the Defense Department gets over its concerns, or the president otherwise persuades or directs them, there are a lot of very good prosecutors and investigators at DOJ. As you say this is a department named after a value. Would we be prepared and could we actually provide some useful support to the International Criminal Court in an investigation of Putin and the people around him for war crimes?
MONACO: So, look, you know well the expertise we have in the Justice Department, because a lot of it resides in the criminal division, your former home. And we are already putting that expertise and that dedication to work. The attorney general has made two trips, by my count, to Ukraine. He most recently was earlier this month in Lviv meeting with counterparts and pledging our commitment to accountability for Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, for holding accountable individuals for the—(coughs)—excuse me—the atrocities perpetrated there.
So we have pledged our full support. And we are on the ground, quite literally, helping our Ukrainian partners in developing evidence, in forensic techniques, in building their cases and, importantly, building ours. We now have a new tool, thanks to Congress’s action, in the statute they passed, that will now allow us to prosecute war criminals who come to the United States. This is, as you know, consistent with the work that we have done historically to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. And so here the Congress acted to give us that same authority with respect to Russian war criminals who should come to the United States, so that there is no safe haven, and that this country is not a safe haven.
So we are absolutely committed to providing that support, to continuing to provide the support that we already are in Ukraine. And we are supportive of a whole range of international investigations. The ICC’s, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s, the U.N.’s, the OSCE’s. So there is a substantial amount we are already doing,
including on the ground in Ukraine, including with our war crimes accountability team that the attorney general named last year. So this is an exceptionally, exceptionally important priority for the Justice Department.
BELLINGER: So let me ask about another aspect of holding Russia accountable, and you mentioned it. And that’s going after Russian assets. You already talked about confiscating oligarch assets. That raises a variety of legal concerns. In fact, when Congress considered some legislation to do that, even the ACLU came and said that’s gone too far. But what are the—what are the legal obstacles to seizing Russian assets? You mentioned oligarch assets, but what’s been really a lot in the news is whether we and other countries should seize Russian central bank assets, and then use those for the reconstruction of Ukraine. So are all these things being considered? And what are the obstacles?
MONACO: Absolutely. So, well, first let me talk about the oligarchs piece, because we have been exceptionally aggressive, I think. We established Task Force KleptoCapture—and I hope people appreciate the creativity in the name—within days. Quite literally, within days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And we thought it was very important to move out quickly, to galvanize the expertise both across our government and working with the REPO Task Force, another great name I think, internationally to bring our partners to bear on the effort, to go after those who embolden, who empower, who feed and fuel the Russian war machine.
And that’s what the Task Force KleptoCapture effort is all about. And including going after the enablers, right? So the shadowy front companies, the accountants, the lawyers, those who enable the hiding of the assets, the shell companies, and the like. So you’re seeing all of that happening when it comes to Task Force KleptoCapture. And importantly, again, thanks to the work of Congress, giving us the authority to take those assets and use them for the benefit of Ukraine. We now have that authority and we’re moving out on it.
With regard to the central bank asset and the sovereign assets, the G-7 recently, as you may know, came together and made a commitment to say we’re going to keep immobilized those assets, wherever they are frozen across the globe, in jurisdictions across the globe, for the pendency of the conflict. And when that is over, we’re committed to ensuring that they’re used for the benefit of and to the reconstruction of Ukraine. And I think that’s absolutely appropriate.
BELLINGER: So let me turn to another malign influence, Chinese influence. The Biden administration has terminated the Trump administration’s so-called China Initiative, in part, I gather, over concerns that it was causing discrimination against Chinese Americans. But as you said, the Department of Justice’s efforts against Chinese malign influence, cyber offenses, trade secret theft have not stopped. So what’s changed? What are you continuing to do? And what’s different from the last administration?
MONACO: Sure. Well, first I think, stepping back, when the leader of the National Security Division, Matt Olsen, somebody you know, a wonderful colleague and a terrific leader for that division that I once—now it seems like many moons ago—had the privilege to lead—when he came into that role, he took a hard and clear-eyed look at that—at that initiative. And looked at it in the current context of the nation-state threats that we are facing today, the ones that I briefly outlined in my remarks. And it was clear that, based on the threat that we face, that we needed a comprehensive approach to the repressive activities of nation-states.
And so that’s what has changed. But what has not changed is the realization that the PRC stands apart when it comes to malign cyber activities, when it comes to transnational repression, when it comes to theft of our intellectual property and trade secrets. So there is no—there is no change there. And there’s very clear-eyed approach there. And we are moving out, as I detailed in some of my remarks and as our activities show, on all of those efforts.
But I also think what’s important to be made clear, and what Matt’s review and the approach we’re taking now also makes clear, is our activities are focused on the PRC, on the PRC government, on the Chinese Communist Party, and not on the Chinese people or Chinese Americans.
BELLINGER: So you mentioned TikTok. And you famously said in prior remarks.
MONACO: I didn’t actually mention TikTok, but OK. (Laughter.)
BELLINGER: In prior remarks you’ve said: I’m not on TikTok, and neither should you. So why is that? What do we have—you know, lots of young people—I have to say, I’m not on TikTok either. But lots of young—
MONACO: But I said to John, that’s a commentary less on his kind of cyber prowess than his age, I think. (Laughter.)
BELLINGER: It may be a comment on my cyber prowess. (Laughs.) But why shouldn’t we be on TikTok? Why all the young people—what’s your warning to the young people of the United States? What are the Chinese doing that would be a risk to them?
MONACO: Look, I, as well as other national security professionals, and experts, and leaders, have been quite clear about the challenge and the threats that we think this poses. And it goes to, for instance—and this is something I also referenced in my remarks—we have a situation where the PRC government has, by law, a requirement that any company—Chinese company, American company, European company, doesn’t matter—doing business in China must hand over, at the government’s request, the data in its custody and control. And they can use that for whatever purpose.
And what we know, and what our intelligence community has been very clear about, is that China’s the world leader in repressive activity, in using data and technological tools as a source of repression. And, importantly, in furtherance of its ideologies, its principles, its goals, which are not consistent with our own, which are autocratic in nature. So that’s the fundamental point, as far as I’m concerned. And, as you’ve seen, a number of other national security leaders have been quite clear about the potential here for the misuse and abuse. And we have seen that abuse in other activities by the PRC.
BELLINGER: So let me turn to another country, Iran, which last week launched, or at least groups allied with Iran, launched drones at—killing a U.S. contractor and injuring a number of Americans in northeast Syria. We responded with missile attacks. You mentioned that they have attempted to assassinate former National Security Advisor John Bolton, resulting in the indictment of an Iranian for that. What is the Justice Department doing to—(audio break)—target U.S. officials?
MONACO: Well, as I’ve made clear in my remarks—(audio break)—and there’s unfortunately far too many—(audio break)—vision. We had a first of its kind, so this dates back. I think my point is that this activity dates back so kind. We had a first of its kind indictment of an individual deployed by Iranian actors to plot against the then-Saudi ambassador here in the United States. So we have seen this activity, and it continues.
What we are doing, and I’m not obviously going to comment on pending cases. But I would urge you to take a look at our publicly filled charging documents. In some of the cases—in the case you mentioned, in the Bolton case, as well as the case I mentioned with regard to the plot against Masih Alinejad—it really demonstrates in startling detail the lengths to which Iranian actors will go to surveil, to intimidate, and to plot violence against dissidents, and those with the courage to speak out.
BELLINGER: So another thing that Iranians have been doing for a long time is taking Americans hostage, from the early takeover of the embassy. You and I have worked together, and you’ve been honored for your work on behalf of American hostages. The Iranians keep taking Americans hostage, and then holding them. It’s resulted in swaps of Iranians for Americans. You’ve been on the White House side of arranging those. At the Justice Department—you and I both know the Justice Department hates to do this, because we hate to give up clearly guilty people for people who have been taken essentially for political gain. There are three Americans being held now. What do we do about that?
MONACO: Look, I think the White House, the president, the leadership has been exceptionally clear about the priority to bring Americans home. It is something, as you know, near and dear to my heart. You mentioned one of the most difficult—some of the most difficult work, but also the most, trying to find the right word. I don’t want to say rewarding, but inspiring work that I did and that I saw was that of American families whose loved ones were being held unjustly abroad, whether by terrorists, whether by repressive regimes. And coming together in their just unspeakable grief, and anger, and frustration to try and bring more coherence to our policy. That was work I did as homeland security advisor to President Obama.
And I got to see the incredible grace, dignity, and really incredible dedication of American families and parents who’d lost loved ones and who had loved ones held unjustly abroad, coming together to try and make our government more purposeful, more responsive, on these issues. And I think you see that reflected in the president’s actions to bring Americans home. And the entire national security team is unrelenting in that effort.
BELLINGER: Well, thank you for that. I’ve got two more questions. One of them is a process question. One of them is a retrospective. So the process question, you and I have both been on both sides of the issue of sharing sensitive criminal information or national security information from the Justice Department to the White House. The White House needs the information. The president needs the information. His advisors need the information to advise him and to deconflict Justice Department investigations, whether criminal or intelligence, with our foreign policy, with activities the Defense Department is engaged in, or activities of our intelligence agencies.
So the White House, as you know, you spent four years on the receiving end, needs the information. As you and I both know, the Justice Department hates to provide the information. They don’t like to provide information to the White House. They worry it’s going to leak. They worry it’s going to be politicized. And they hate it when other government agencies get involved to tell them you can’t do this, you can’t do that.
MONACO: You make us sound so unreasonable, John. (Laughter.)
BELLINGER: What—but you’ve been on both sides. Is it—how do you strike that balance? And has anything changed now in the Biden administration in how you strike that balance?
MONACO: So it’s a great question. And I think one that is worthy of unpacking a little bit, because it is important for people to understand how this space is navigated. You know, you reference my first boss in the Justice Department, I guess, maybe, or first—technically, your first boss as well, Janet Reno. And as a young lawyer, I got a bird’s-eye view, and my first education, in what the Justice Department was all about. And there, I learned that our Justice Department is unique in our system because it wears two hats, right?
It is independent prosecutor and investigator. But it also has a policy role in our government. And it’s got to do both of those. It has to pursue the president’s policy priorities, consistent with the law. But has to do so while exercising its independent prosecution and investigative responsibilities. So how you navigate that space is a challenge for every Justice Department leader. But I saw how that got done under Janet Reno. And, you know, she famously held—or, hung a portrait of Edward Levi in her—you’re smiling, you remember this—in her conference room. He, of course, was kind of the father of the post-Watergate norms and rules around navigating this space in the Justice Department. One of the things he did was kind of adopt what’s called the White House contacts policy.
So it is through using norms and rules and policies like that, which govern and channel the appropriate exchange of that information, that’s one of the ways that we navigate this space. And it’s really important that we have those norms, and we have those policies to guard from undue, real or perceived, influence. And perceived is important too. So what does that mean? It means that we don’t share information about criminal law enforcement matters unless they have a real impact and a need—or, the president needs that information to pursue his objectives, to pursue the foreign policy, to pursue the national security, to guard against public safety issues.
So what that means in practice is that we do channel that information as appropriate between my office, between the attorney general’s office, between the White House counsel’s office. But it’s critically important that we maintain certain lines. So for instance, the decision about whether or when or who or what to investigate and to charge is done completely independent. It is done completely independently, and it is confined to the Justice Department and our investigative agencies.
Once that decision is made, if that decision and if those charges have a foreign policy implication, have a public safety implication, have a national security implication, it’s entirely appropriate once that decision is made to then talk—and I’ve been part of these conversations, as you point out, both in my roles at the Justice Department and in my role at the White House—to have a conversation about, all right, how are we going to talk about this? What foreign partners should we engage with to explain what is happening? What partners do we need to share—what allies and partners do we need to share this information with?
And I’ll give you a very concrete example. When I was the head of the National Security Division we embarked on an investigation, the first of its kind, and later decided to bring charges against five members of the People’s Liberation Army in China for—the first-ever charges against—for economic—cyber-enabled economic espionage against U.S. companies. We made the decision to start that investigation and to bring those charges completely independent of the White House and other agencies of the government. As you might imagine, there were some who might be concerned that that might upset China, that might have issues—you know, create issues with trade policy, or other objectives.
Once we made the decision to charge, when it came time to decide to unseal those charges, to make them public, then that is an appropriate conversation to have, how do enable our ambassador in Beijing to talk to the Chinese government about this? What do we share with our partners to say: Understand, this is what we’ve uncovered in our investigation. They may be doing the same type of activity to your companies. So let’s come together to address this activity. So making sure those lines are really drawn clearly and that we channel the communications appropriately is really, really important.
BELLINGER: So last question, briefly, is: A lot’s changed in the twenty-five years that you and I both started there. This was before 9/11—
MONACO: You keep repeating that number.
BELLINGER: (Laughs.) This was before 9/11. It was before the National Security Division was created. I think at that point, no Department of Justice had ever even been detailed to the White House. It stood apart.
MONACO: Hmm, that’s interesting.
BELLINGER: How has the mission of the—you’ve talked a lot about it today—but how would you say, in a couple of sentences, the Department of Justice’s national security mission has changed?
MONACO: Legally, culturally, structurally. Legally, obviously we’ve had a whole range of legal changes and authorities changes, a lot of which has prompted very justified debate and discussion across those twenty-five years when it comes to giving us tools to ensure that we are connecting the dots, as the saying goes, to ensure we don’t have another devastating attack like we had on 9/11. And now we have other discussions now about how do we bring those tools up to date for other threats, whether it’s cyber, whether it’s domestic terrorism. So legally.
Structurally you mentioned the division that I led, National Security Division, didn’t exist before the years after 9/11, before 2006 when it was created by an act of Congress. We didn’t have a whole Department of Homeland Security, which now is an important partner on so many of our efforts. The FBI, which I had the privilege, as you mentioned, of working with Bob Mueller to help transform that organization from an organization focused
solely on investigating crimes after the fact, to being an intelligence-led, threat-driven, national security organization focused on the terrorism threat, the espionage threat, the cyber threat.
And culturally, we have changed as a department. Our national security mission is vast. It is ingrained in a whole host of issues. Obviously, it first started with our approach to the terrorism threat, but now we have the National Security Division working hand-in-glove with the civil rights division to address hate crimes that are also acts of domestic terrorism. We have a huge new focus, as I mentioned, on the use and abuse by autocratic regimes of technology and the national security implications of that. So I think we have changed along legal, structural, and cultural lines. And we’ve got more work to do. But I think we’ve made a lot of progress.
BELLINGER: Good. Well, thanks for that.
OK. So we’ll alternate between the room and people online. Please state your name and your affiliation. And right here in the front row, name and affiliation, please. No, I’m sorry, here with the beard. (Laughter.)
Q: Thank you very much. Fascinating conversation. Massimo Calabresi from Time magazine.
A number of complicated and important issues. It’s like a buffet for a reporter to ask about. But one in particular, politicized justice. Many people in America believe that the justice system has been politicized or, in the current term, weaponized. Congress is engaged in its oversight duties in that regard. Do you believe they are acting in good faith? Is that oversight impeding the Justice Department’s ability to pursue justice in January 6 investigations, or in other ways? And overall, how is the project of restoring American faith in the Justice Department going?
MONACO: Just a few small questions, Massimo. Thanks. (Laughter.)
First, we’re not being impeded in our efforts to bring the perpetrators, at any level, to justice for the attack on our democracy that happened on January 6. With regard to oversight, I’m not going to cast a broad brush. We’re going to engage—as we have said at the outset of this Congress—we’re going to engage with legitimate oversight requests. We’re going to be as responsive as possible, consistent with longstanding separation of powers, legal kind of lines that the department has tried to adhere to, again, to protect against inappropriate influence on ongoing investigations. But we will engage and be responsive to legitimate oversight requests. And we’ve laid that out quite clearly at the start of this—at the start of this Congress.
And, you know, the attorney general is going up this afternoon for his annual appropriations hearing. He appeared a few weeks ago before the Senate Judiciary Committee for annual oversight. I’ll be going up to speak to the Senate Judiciary Committee on war crimes and our efforts to push back against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. And so we will—we will engage. We will continue to be responsive and engage in good faith. And hope that others do the same.
BELLINGER: We have a question online.
OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Maggie Lewis.
Q: Hi. Maggie Lewis, Seton Hall Law School.
First, thank you for ending the China Initiative, and for DOJ’s ongoing efforts to enhance national security while supporting U.S.-based innovation and safeguarding civil liberties. But my question is about transnational repression, and the tools available to address it. Specifically, to what extent do you think current criminal statutes are sufficient or are new laws needed along the lines of, for example, Sweden’s refugee espionage law, that directly criminalizes intelligence activities against individuals? Thanks.
MONACO: So I’m not familiar with that particular law, or what Sweden is doing there. But what I would say is, unfortunately, this is a robust area of our enforcement efforts, as I laid out. We unfortunately have a lot to do when we look at what Russia, China, Iran are doing in terms of their repressive activities, whether it’s with technology or right here on U.S. soil. The really kind of brazen activities, some of which I outlined. So we are constantly looking and evaluating whether we’ve got gaps in the law. I’m actually getting that question from members of Congress, which I’m heartened to see, that legislators are focused on this issue and making sure that we’ve got the appropriate tools to address it.
BELLINGER: In the room here. Yeah.
Q: Thank you. Eric Lewis. I’m the chair of Reprieve US.
First, I’d like to thank you and the attorney general for all you’ve done to restore honor, integrity, and professionalism to the department. It’s a huge change. Let me deal with our issues. Reprieve deals with advocating against the death penalty and Guantanamo. And those line up. You will recall at the end of the Trump administration there was a kind of conveyor belt of federal executions after a seventeen year moratorium. And the Biden—President Biden has announced his opposition in principle to the death penalty. We have five death cases still at Guantanamo, as well as it continues. And I’d like you to comment, if you would, on the national security implications both of having a federal death penalty when so many of our allies do not, and also with respect to the death penalty being applied to Guantanamo detainees. Thank you.
MONACO: Well, thanks very much. And thanks for the work of Reprieve. And thank you for your kind words, although I have to say, you know, the work of the Department of Justice, its backbone, its kind of beating heart, as I’ve described it, is the more than 115,000 men and women of the Justice Department who work every day to uphold the founding principles that I talked about, regardless of what attorney general or deputy attorney general occupies what office, and regardless of what president occupies the Oval Office. And that’s as it should it. So I think the credit goes to them. So that’s first.
Second, with regard to your questions, I mean, look, the national security implications of the federal death penalty, I will be quite candid, I do sometimes hear about concerns from our partners about the existence of the federal death penalty on our books, on our statutes, and in our criminal justice system, and the continued use of it. The very practical implications are, as you probably well know—and I know John knows because he had to navigate this sometimes—when we would seek cooperation from our international partners, law enforcement partners, for information, for evidence, for investigative help, to share with us, and in extraditions of individuals that we caught abroad, subject to our legal process, sometimes a real reluctance to turn over that information, or concern about sharing that information or extraditing individuals because of the potential implication of the death penalty. So it does have real practical implications. Now, we largely work through those issues, and we have historically been able to work through those issues.
With respect to the Guantanamo piece, I’m afraid I’m going to have to demure on answering that. As you know it’s an ongoing, although I think we might have some debate about how ongoing, those cases and the military tribunals are. Which I think is a very, very disturbing legacy of 9/11 that we have not yet had justice for the victims and the families of the 9/11 attacks.
BELLINGER: We have a question online.
OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Robert Boorstin.
Q: Hi. This is Bob Boorstin. I’m a consultant in D.C.
And I want to change the subject on you. So excuse me for doing that. I have a relative who was just released from federal prison. And I’m wondering why it took the Department so long to replace the Trump-era head of
the Bureau—head of the Bureau of Federal Prisons, given that you had every chance to do it and that you haven’t done it until you selected Director Peters, recently.
MONACO: Well, as you point out, the Director Colette Peters, who was named back in August, and she’s a wonderful leader for the Bureau of Prisons. She was the former head of the Department of Corrections in Oregon, a former inspector general there, a former juvenile justice advocate and reformer. She’s a great leader for the Bureau of Prisons. And that is a career position that went through the longstanding appropriate career hiring process. And I’m really excited that she is on board, and has now been for many months, and is doing a great job leading the BFP.
BELLINGER: Alan Raul.
Q: Thank you. Alan Raul from the law firm Sidley Austin.
General Monaco, you mentioned that the department received some new authorities to pursue law enforcement and foreign malign activity. One of those authorities, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which deals with foreign communications that merely transit U.S. facilities. That’s up for reauthorization this year. I understand there’s members of Congress, and we know that the Europeans in particular have had concerns about Section 702. Is this an important tool in defending the rule of law against our foreign adversaries? And how do you address the questions raised both in Congress and in Europe? Thank you.
MONACO: Thanks, Alan, for the question. It’s a critically important tool. It is a vital tool on a whole host of issues, including our ability to push back against Russian aggression, including to understand Chinese efforts when it comes to malign foreign influence, cyber activities, you name it. So it’s a critical tool on a whole host of—on a whole host of threats. It is up for reauthorization this year. As you know, as John knows, as many in this audience knows, it is likely going to be a very significant debate and discussion in Congress, as past reauthorizations have been. The attorney general and the director of national intelligence recently sent a letter up to the leaders on Capitol Hill to make clear what a vital priority this is. The White House has been clear about what an important legislative priority this reauthorization is.
It's also important that we reauthorize it in a way that keeps its efficacy, keeps it as an effective tool, but also one that acknowledges and addresses privacy and civil liberties concerns. And, you know, I have, and the attorney general has, since we’ve come back to the department, taken a very clear-eyed look at how it’s being employed, how the compliance efforts are going, and put in place a number of changes to address some compliance instances that were identified both by the FISA court and by the oversight that the executive branch does, that the IG does.
And so we are scrupulously adhering to those changes and ensuring that those changes are being adhered to. And they are showing real results in terms of a dramatic drop in compliance errors. So we are really committed to getting this reauthorized, to maintaining this as a vital effective national security tool, and one that is used—that is consistent with the law, consistent with the privacy and civil liberties protections that are so vital, to ultimately the trust of the American people in us using these important authorities.
Q: Thanks. Elisa Massimino—
MONACO: Hi, Elisa. Hi.
Q: —at Georgetown. (Off mic.)
I wanted to go back to China a bit. The—(comes on mic)—thanks. Elisa Massimino at Georgetown University.
I wanted to go back to China. In addition to the transnational repression and the cyber activities that you mentioned, a perhaps less brazen but maybe more subtle and sophisticated effort that the government of the PRC seems to be engaged in is to ramp up its diplomacy, if you will, trying to challenge, and shape, and change the global norms around law enforcement—both in their bilateral relationships but also in multilateral fora. And the Center for American Progress did a report on this last fall that I thought was equally alarming to many of the—as many of the things that you mentioned today. And I just wondered, what is the Justice Department doing about that? Are you ramping up engagement to meet that challenge? And how are you doing it? Thanks.
MONACO: Thanks for the question. And you’re absolutely right to call this out. I think the effort to shape and influence norms, whether it comes to the use of technologies, as I mentioned, to exercising foreign malign influence, to influencing and corrupting law enforcement—all of that is of vital importance in our efforts to address transnational repression. All of that is on the table. All of that is part of our investigative and enforcement efforts. We are taking very seriously reports like the ones that CAP has done, like other reports, you’ve seen them, of the establishment of police stations in American cities. So we are focused like a laser on exactly these types of foreign malign efforts. And we will not stop. And we will be relentless in addressing those efforts at repression here in the United States.
BELLINGER: I can do one more, if you keep it short. So right there, with the blue tie.
MONACO: Blue tie.
BELLINGER: Keep it short.
Q: Thank you so much. I’m George Bogden from the Kennan Institute.
I wanted to ask, in the plot against Alinejad, there appear to be several unintentional intermediaries, like Michael McKeever and Ms. Bahadorifar. And I’m just kind of wondering, does that indicate a rise in repressive government using private investigators and messengers unwittingly to kind of advance their plots in the United States?
MONACO: Well, thank you, George, for the question, and for being a great student in my NYU Law School seminar. (Laughter.) And as you well know, since we talked in our seminar about how I’m not going to talk about ongoing investigations. (Laughter.) What I’ll say is, as you saw in your clear attention to the charging documents, that is one technique that we have exposed in that case of the use of cut-outs, the use of intermediaries to intimidate. And it’s something that we’re very, very focused on, whether it’s Iran, whether it’s China, whether it’s Russia. So thanks for the question.
BELLINGER: Well, thank you. Covered a lot of territory. Thanks for all you’re doing.
MONACO: Thank you. (Applause.)